By Nicky and Sila Lee


There’s one group of adults who are best equipped to form trusting, close, and productive relationships with others.  They are confident, secure and more resilient to pressure.  They persevere through challenges, have a greater sense of personal responsibility and tend to influence others for good.  What’s their secret?

Their secret is that as children they knew their parents loved them unconditionally. How did they know?  One answer is that their parents spoke loving words to them.  Our words have the power either to build children up or to put them down and the results will endure in to adulthood.

Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks once commented: ‘Which one of us doesn’t carry some memory of words our parents said to us when we were young – words that hurt or words that made us walk tall?’

Imagine that each child has an emotional tank inside them.  When they feel loved, that tank is full.  When there’s a lot of whining, tears and bad behaviour, it is likely that their tank is on empty.

Using our words, we can fill up our child’s emotional tank by saying things like, ‘I love you,’ ‘You’re special,’ ‘You did that really well’ or ‘It’s such fun playing this game with you.’

Without being untruthful or using false praise, highlight your child’s small actions, words, attitudes or achievements that nobody else notices.  Of course, we need to correct our children and put in healthy boundaries. But there must also be a steady stream of encouragement. Otherwise our children can spend their whole lives trying to earn our approval.

Professor John Gottman, a psychologist who has been studying family dynamics for more than thirty years, says to parents, ‘For every one negative comment, there needs to be five positive ones.’

Another way to encourage filling a child’s ‘Love Tank’ is by having ‘Family Time’:

We decided to make a commitment to ‘family time’ – a regular weekly time including a meal and a fun activity that we could all enjoy together. For children love is spelt T-I-M-E. Setting aside time to have fun with our children on a regular basis communicates more powerfully than words ever could: ‘We love you.’

When they were young, our children took it in turns to choose what we ate. Pizza was the hot favourite! They also took turns to choose the activity,  whether that was an outdoor sport, going on a picnic, watching a film, getting out an indoor board game, playing a children’s party game or even dressing up and acting.

When the children became teenagers we kept up our family time as the one occasion each week when we knew we would all be together. We had to battle to make the evening fit in with our children’s and our own commitments. Time to relax together can so easily be lost in an over-busy schedule.

Not every family time went smoothly. Sometimes it would end with a child in tears or a furious argument over the rules of a game or who had won. But over time they built a reservoir of shared memories that we all now treasure.

In almost every other role we undertake in life, others can take our place. But as a parent we are indispensable to our children. We decided that our weekly family time was a non-negotiable, and we’re so glad now that we persevered to make it happen.


‘Words’ as a Love Language & ‘Family Time’ are covered in our Parenting Courses.