In the spirit of Valentine’s Day I am inspired to write about explaining the abstract concept of love to children. Love is an idea which is so different from most of the other things children encounter. Nearly everything is a child’s world is shared—”If we have eight M&M’s how many do we each get to eat?” “How do I share my time between school and being at home?” “How do I share my toys with friends or siblings ?” “How long will I have to wait my turn before I get a chance to play”? My friend with three kids likes to joke that her children learned how to divide EVERYTHING by three well before learning other numbers and math concepts because that was their world. We work hard to help children understand the importance of sharing and keeping things fair.
Children are very rooted into the idea of fairness and before they are taught otherwise, they will naturally lump love into the “needs to be divided fairly” category with everything else. Love, contrary to most other things, is an experience that arises out of abundance; it only gets bigger when shared. It is important to teach this to children. A good time to introduce this idea might be when a child is showing jealousy with family members or before welcoming a new baby. I like to remind my own children that the more I love one of them, the more love I have to give! Expressing love or giving love only means you have more available to use and give. When we love, we increase our capacity to love even more.
I like to think of the Grinch’s heart growing three sizes. While the idea of expanding love is abstract, we can certainly feel that heart-expanding sensation that happens in our chests and the accompanying warmth and comfort we feel in our bodies when we love. Help your child feel this sensation by first naming this concept for them and then helping them link the emotion to the sensation in their bodies. With older children you can use other examples of favorites. For example, you can have discussions such as, “Ok- I know blue and green are your favorite colors. Does loving blue so much make you love green any less? Or does it in fact grow your appreciation of green at times? If you love pizza and tacos, does loving pizza mean you can’t love tacos? Or is it more accurate that loving one only makes you also love the other more?” You can also see how feeling loved causes us to feel more open about other ideas, people, or objects.
Love has a ripple effect. When we are in a loving mindset or in a mode of expressing love, we feel refreshed instead of depleted and our capacity to love continues to increase. Love also has the more literal ripple effect of being the gift that keeps on giving. When we show someone love, they then in turn will be more rooted in love, peace, calmness, security and will be more apt to show others love in their own encounters.
The concept of love being rooted in abundance can be tricky even for us as adults. It is common for a parent to struggle when they are bringing a second child into their family. They have to go through a grieving process of it being only them and their first born, much like we grieve the change in our couplehood when welcoming our first baby. Many parents feel worry and fear and question their capacity to love another child as much as they love their first child. I again strive to remind that love does not get divided. Of course things like energy, attention, and M&M’s all do get divided and our kids feel that from us, but it is important to reassure them (as well as yourself) that love, unlike M&M’s, only expands.