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I started saying “I love you” to my kids from the moment they were born. Maybe even before that. That’s one thing, I bet, most parents share in common. It wasn’t long (after they could talk) that my kiddos started saying it back. In our household, we use the “L” word a lot. That one simple phrase often starts and ends each day.
But love is actually a difficult concept to describe, even for adults. The dictionary defines it as, "An intense feeling of deep affection." I’m not sure I would have landed on that exactly, but I get it.
I was curious how my three young sons feel about the “L” word. What does it mean to them? What does "love" conjure up for a little three year old and an 8 or 10 year old? So I asked them. Here's what they said.
My eldest is mature beyond his years and surprisingly wise, so I thought I’d start with him. "What does the word 'love' mean to you?" I asked.
“I dunno,” he replied, barely looking up from his iPad. (Maybe he's more of a typical 10-year-old than I thought.)
I removed the distraction and told him to think about it for a minute. I asked him to describe how he feels towards the people he loves and, in turn, how they make him feel.
“It’s for people that you like a lot," he said. "They make you feel safe and secure and warm. Like you want to hug them.”
Bravo, I thought. That makes perfect sense to me. He characterized his feelings of love using adjectives that show how those who care for him fulfill his needs state: safe, secure, warm. Truly heartwarming.
My middle son is what I would describe as a quintessential kid. He’s happy-go-lucky, kind, curious—and a little cheeky.
When I asked him what love means to him, he was able to answer pretty quickly: “Like when you miss someone when they go away.”
That’s also perfect, I thought. He characterized his feelings of love by the absence of someone. Perhaps unable to describe it with adjectives like his older brother did, he captured the feeling just as well. You know you love someone if you miss them when they go away. Bingo.
Our youngest son, who is three but almost four, is funny, precocious, daring and extremely squishable. He was a little tougher to pin down for an answer since he is so young. And what was I expecting? Not much really.
"What does the word love mean?" I asked him. He looked at me like I had two heads. So I took a little extra time to describe what I meant. When he did answer, it was just one word repeated over and over again: “Mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy…”.
“When you think about how love makes you feel, you think of me?" I asked. He nodded with a big smile on his face. He is my little sidekick, so this definitely made sense. For my littlest one, feelings of love are obviously so engrained with people themselves that he can’t, at this age, separate the two. And of course, I loved how his definition made me feel.
This exercise was really fun and it helped me understand my kids and our bond a little better. As they grow and experience being ‘in love’ and the (likely) heartbreak that goes along with it, their definition of love will undoubtedly change, but for now I appreciate their unspoiled and utterly honest kid views.
What do you think your kids would say? Maybe you should ask them. Their answers might surprise you but will probably also fill your heart.