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Of All the People Who Need to Hear “I Love You,” Your Child Needs It Most

Dr. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker

I recently had a conversation with my friend Michael Jr. for my Parenting Great Kids podcast. Michael Jr. is an actor, comedian, and father of four. While we were talking, he recalled a time he overheard his father say something about him that he believes helped direct his life’s path.

Michael Jr. grew up in a home that was not unfamiliar to drug use. He recalls coming home one day when he was young and seeing his father’s friend sitting on their front porch, smoking marijuana. Later, Michael overheard the friend apologize to his father for smoking in front of his son.

To that, Michael’s dad replied, “My son isn’t like you. He would never do drugs. He’s way too smart for that.”

Michael said that one sentence made him feel like a superhero, and because of what his dad said, he to this day has never done drugs—something so rampant in the entertainment culture in which he makes his living.

Parents, listen to this: Your child will become what you believe he is. If you tell him you love him, he will believe he is loved. If you fail to do this, he will wonder if he is. That’s just how it is with kids.

Because of this experience with his dad, Michael has started something he calls “intros” for his kids, similar to the “intro” he customarily receives when he takes the stage as a performer. Whenever he introduces his child to a friend of his, he says something kind and affirming about them. When he introduced me to his daughter, Portland, before recording this podcast, he told me, “This is my daughter Portland. She’s a really good soccer player and she’s smart.”

He says something about their character and strength because he knows they will believe it’s true if he says it.

I think this is a great idea to do with your kids. Not only do they feel proud for being introduced this way in front of your friends, but this gives them the chance to hear you speak about who they are to you. Every time they hear this, they internalize it and believe it.

Parents, your kids need to hear you speak about who they are and what you believe about them. They need to hear you say you love them again and again.

In September 1979, my father spoke a single sentence that changed my life. I had graduated from Mt. Holyoke College earlier in the year and had been rejected from several medical schools, so I was living at home pondering Plan B. One evening, on my way upstairs, I overheard my father talking to a friend on the phone.

“Yes,” he was saying. “They really do grow up fast, don’t they? I’m excited to tell you that my daughter, Meg, will be starting medical school next fall.  She’s not quite sure where, though.”

My head went hot. What was he saying? Medical school? I’d just received a handful of rejections. I’ll be going to medical school next fall? How can he say that? What does he know that I don’t?

My father believed something about me that I couldn’t yet believe myself. Not only did he believe it, but he, a doctor himself, put his reputation on the line in front of his friend.

As I backed away from the door, my heart rate doubled. I felt thrilled and excited because my father’s confidence gave me hope. And sure enough, in Fall 1980, I started medical school, just as my father had said.

That’s the power of a father’s, or mother’s, words. They can lead your child to success, or to failure, looking for love where they didn’t feel they had it at home.

On social media and elsewhere, this week is all about romantic love, but what if you made it about reminding your child how much you love them? Say it to them or write it in a card. But say it directly. Don’t talk around it. I love you coming from you, their parent, will make them believe they are truly loved.

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