TEACHING CHILDREN ABOUT LOVE
Excerpt from Baffled by Love by Laurie Kahn
Why don’t we take the time to teach children about love? Imagine if a teacher began a class by asking her students a simple question: “How do you know if someone loves you?”
The lucky ones might say, “When my daddy makes my lunch and puts my favorite snack in my bag,” or “When my mom kisses me goodnight,” or “Love is when your mom puts balloons all over the house on your birthday.” Others, like my clients Kate, Jessica, and Suzy, would have darker responses, if they knew how to answer at all.
Kate never had a birthday party when she was a child. When she was six years old, she slept with a kitchen knife under her pillow. She was afraid that when her father returned home drunk, he would hurt her or her sister. She might say, “Love is when you hug your teddy bear and the house is quiet when your dad is asleep.”
Jessica might say, “Love is when your older sister rocks you to sleep at night and whispers in your ear, ‘It’s going to be all right. Close your eyes. Just don’t think about what happened; don’t think about it.’”
Suzy would be unable to answer. She does not know how to tell when someone loves her. When she was six, she asked her grandfather, “Why do you touch me down there?” He replied, “Because I love you, but don’t tell your mother.”
Love is not just a feeling. Love is a promise, a commitment. We should teach our children that love is not about keeping secrets. We should teach them that love is not supposed to hurt or frighten them. Love relies on affection, care, protection, accountability, kindness, responsibility, and respect.
The teacher could write these words on the board and give the children copies of the list to take home. Love, she could tell them, must include a commitment to another’s well-being. It is incompatible with abuse.
The students might not understand the meaning of all these words, but it would be good to give them a definition of love. Then, of course, the teacher would also have to show her students something about love, because children cannot truly learn about love with just words.