CAPITAL DISTRICT – On Valentine’s Day, thoughts turn to love, most notably the romantic kind. Growing up in England, Valentine’s Day was a day for adults. Sweethearts sent out anonymous cards, and the more cards you received, the more popular you were. As a teenager, I would wait for the postman excitedly.
Human love usually comes with conditions. Even without knowing it, we often put conditions on the relationships we engage in, but as grandparents, we are in a unique position. We give without the expectation of receiving. We accept our grandchildren for who they are, wherever they are. We come as close to loving unconditionally as humanly possible. Our ability to be in the moment, with rapt attention and gentle guidance, is our greatest gift to our grandchildren. Our attention says, “I believe in you.” In doing so, we teach them the greatest of unconditional love – the love of self. We are guiding them to believe in their own strength and eventual autonomy.
As a young speech therapy student, I once praised a child’s efforts by saying, “Good boy!” My supervisor sent me a note: “Do not say he’s a good boy; he is inherently good. Specify the behavior.”
My first experience of unconditional love was with my Nanny. She provided that kind of all-encompassing, sweet knowledge that my innermost self was honored. I could be me without fear. I did not have to behave or look a certain way. Through her steadfast listening and gentle encouragement, she was always motivating me to see the positive in difficult times. I learned to give and receive respect and to believe in my own strengths.
Being child-centered doesn’t mean doing everything for them. It means helping them figure out how to do it themselves. As a speech pathologist and now as a grandmother, I like to put the children in the role of teacher. Have them show you how to do little things. As they age, encourage them to play a role in helping make family decisions. They will learn to trust and believe in themselves. They will also learn coping strategies for when things don’t go right. Life will present them with difficulties. Self love will give them the strength to see the lesson in that situation.
From the moment they’re born, children start developing a sense of self. During this month that celebrates love, a fun way to honor who they are is to have your child make a personalized Valentine’s Day placemat. Even toddlers like my grandsons can participate in this project.
Have them collect or cut out magazine images that reflect things they like or find meaningful. Have them pick out pictures of objects they find interesting: favorite toys, movies and other items that reflect who they are at this stage in their lives. They can also add photos, drawings or special love notes.
For Copeland and Jack, their placemats will likely include Thomas and Friends and trucks of every kind. Copeland is also very interested in art. Jack loves his letters. Talk about the items as they are collected. It reinforces your child’s sense of self and helps develop language skills. Also, cut out a red heart and have them design it however they wish. Add their name and date. Place these objects between two sheets of contact paper and trim the edges.
Just like my Nanny, I love my grandchildren passionately and without condition. I honor their many colors and rejoice as each one is revealed. Through my gift of mindfulness, they receive the greatest love lesson: The most important relationship we’ll ever have is with ourselves.
Sharon Cole lives in Delmar and is a licensed speech-language pathologist and proud grandmother. Her goal is to enhance children’s lives through love, laughter and language. She can be reached at [email protected] or www.facebook.com/britishnannyslp.