Correcting your child so that they hear, "I love you"

My six-year-old was tearing around with some toys yesterday. He took a running jump with a dolls pram and landed hard on the floor, the pram scattering and skidding along its side.

"Uh uh," I growled. It really was a growl, mixed in with a snarl. "Don't do that," I said and looked fiercely at him. It was an instinctive response. My thought process was so fast I hardly knew what would come out.

He looked sheepish and sad and quickly went to pick up the pram, obviously scared. "Thank you," I said, now smiling again. And then he said something which affected me for the rest of the day.

He said: "But you still love me, right?" 

And then it hit me. Whenever I growl at him or yell at him or look at him with anger, he doesn't hear, "Please fix your behaviour." He hears, "I don't love you." 

I remember it from when I was young. Perhaps it's what all children think.

I began to ask myself why. Perhaps it is because they are not mature enough to distinguish the emotional message from the words of what is being said. But then I realised that none of us are mature enough to do that. If my husband talks to me with anger in his voice, I only hear the anger. I rarely hear the content of his words.

I think the real reason children hear, "I don't love you," when we speak with growls and snarls is because that is the actual message of a growl or a snarl. 

In one Corinthians chapter 13, the Bible talks about the definition of love. It doesn't talk about an overall feeling, a general orientation or a nebulous good intention. it doesn't talk about screaming all day and then looking with dewy eyes at your finally sleeping children. It talks about actual actions. Being kind, being patient, never giving up, protecting, not holding grudges, looking for the best in a person.

Being a loving parent, therefore, means speaking kindly, with patience and protection. It's not okay to yell at my six-year-old and say, "But of course I love him. I'm just irritated." Irritation has no place in love. Love is the action.

I am not talking about never correcting my child. I am not talking about it being okay that he's been careless with a toy, especially a toy that is not his own. Of course, he needs to learn gentleness and respect for things, and appropriate behaviour for situations. That is not the question here.

What is the question, is how I am going to communicate those things to him so that I am demonstrating love at all times.

After he said that to me, I felt convicted. I squatted down next to him and said, "I am really sorry that I was so rude to you. This is what I needed to say."

And then, in giraffe language, I said, "When you toss the pram around like that, I feel upset because I know that the pram could get broken. I also feel irritated by the noise and bouncing around because I want the other people here to have peace for their conversations. Could you please be careful with the toy, and if you want to run like that, could you please go outside?"

Love is the action. And I want to correct my child so that he always hears, "I love you."