Love Metabolism

All our children need our love and attention; that’s a given. But some children seem to have a greater need. You give them lots of attention and love and it seems to last five minutes before they need more. They need reassurance,  encouragement, understanding, correction, praise, and plenty of hugs sprinkled in. My husband described this the other day in such a helpful way, I thought I would pass it on to you.

Just like adults have different metabolisms, kids seem to have different love metabolisms. Some adults can eat vast amounts of food, and they burn off the calories as fast as they eat them,  never gaining a pound. Others can just walk past a picture of a doughnut, and they gain two pounds. In the same way, some kids can get a hug from Mom, and that holds them for the morning while they run out to play in the backyard quite happily. But little sister may need a hug every twenty minutes because she has already burned off the last one. So it just doesn’t work to hand out the affection equally, everyone getting a fair share.

Unfortunately, the ones who have the biggest needs (with the limitless tanks) can become the most demanding, which can make them the least lovable. And if Mom doesn’t just pour on the love anyway, it will only get worse.  Many of the bad habits or bad behavior that little kids develop are the result of insecurity and neediness. If parents would determine to pour on the loving, they may be surprised to see some of the bad behavior or bad attitudes disappear. Kids’ needs  fluctuate as they grow, so their tank size may change just when you thought you had it figured out.

So parents need to ladle in on thick, or dump it on with a snow shovel, or pour it on with a fire hose. Whatever suits you. And just like food nourishes the body, love and attention nourishes their little souls. And fat souls are what we want.

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17 thoughts on “Love Metabolism

  1. Wow that’s just what I needed to hear. My hubby and I were just discussing and your thoughts are very helpful. Thanks

  2. Hi Nancy, I was hoping that you may be able to help me. My oldest child (4yrs girl) has one of those ever replenishing love tanks that you have mentioned and I was wondering what kind of ways can i fill up her love tank (quickly) as I feel quite stretched as I also have a 2.5 yr old and an 11 month old.
    My hubby and I love your books ( and Mr Wilson’s ), all the way from Queensland Australia. Thanks…

  3. Let me play devil’s advocate for a moment (or perhaps something slightly less evil)…

    I understand that, at one extreme, there is the parent who doesn’t have time to be bothered with his kids, who never looks his children in the eye, who shuffles them off from one “enrichment” activity to another, never providing the most important enrichment of all….but is there such thing as an opposite extreme?

    Is it possible for a child to learn that, while demanding attention in the classic temper-tantrum style will only end in sorrow, they have a slam-dunk in demanding hugs? Perhaps it’s analogous to the demand feeding question. What could possibly be inadvisable about giving sweet little babykins as much milk as he can hold? And yet, isn’t there a point at which Mom says, “OK, last feeding was 15 minutes ago. Diaper is newly-changed. No other discernible irritants detected. Child must start learning he is not center of world. Feeding will resume presently.”) Maybe that’s not a good analogy, since there are strong feelings for/against demand feeding. Fast forward a few years, then. Giving toddler Johnny a banana to eat is good for him. But I’m sure everyone would agree that if Johnny were demanding bananas all day long, on a whim, that isn’t so good.

    Is it possible to inadvertently teach children—particularly little girls, who are often skilled at learning such things—that when she turns on the sweetness and hugs, she should expect the world to stop so she can take center stage? I don’t know how to phrase this question without sounding heartless or as if I’m promoting the negligent parent scenario, but don’t we want our children to learn from us not only the never-ending abundance of Christ’s love, but the call for self control, even in their young years? Is it possible that the principle of never-ever-ever-say-no-bottomless hugs, while on the surface seems loving, might be giving in to sentimentalism?

    I’ll hasten to add that I absolutely agree that parents should be eager to pour on the love, and that dutifully doling out the same number of hugs, kisses, etc. to each child equally is teaching our kids that Christ’s love is not so much a feast as a soup kitchen.

  4. Love this article, it is so good to remember the abundance of Christ’s love for His people and to bestow it on our children.

    In response to the above response, i would say that if manipulation is occurring surrounding hugs, it will certainly be surfacing many other places. We have to be faithful and consistent in blessing our children with discipline as well as abundant hugs and kisses. When we pour on the love along with cosistent, self-controlled (on our part as parents), kind discipline then the hugs and kisses along with little Johnny’s need for them will all come out right.

    When Johnny’s tank is full then the need to manipulate will not be there.

  5. I also wonder how you can give enough love when the child is in elementary school and you don’t see them all day during the school year? Can you make up the time when they come home? In spite of homework and extra curricular activities like ballet/dance and music lessons? Thanks

  6. Thank you for this encouragement Nancy! I have opposite extreme kiddos. One seems to suck the life out of me, while the other just needs an occasional smile and quick toss in the air to be content. Getting out my firehose since we don’t have snow shovels in Alabama :)…..

  7. Let us remember not to confuse love with affection. That is what the world does. Affection comes from love, but it is not love itself. Love is the keeping and teaching of God’s law to our children.

    It is much easier (in fact fun) to hug and cuddle our children, it really requires love when it is time to dish out the discipline (that is no fun!).

    Often, the way to pour on the love is a good “kick in the tail” rather than a hug.

    I realize, Mrs. Wilson, that you are not speaking for permissiveness or teaching a lack of hugs is more often the problem than a lack of spankings. Where you live, and where you are coming from, you may see a need for the reminder you posted of dishing out hugs (yet also correction, like you stated). More blessings to you!

    Sadly, the community that I am in, the pagans (who, I realize, you are not addressing here) and many, many, professing Christians, have the opposite problem. I struggle with it too. We are bombarded with an unBiblical worldview that sees love as an emotion. This worldview sees a child’s problem, not as sin, but caused by a fill-in-the-blank-excuse-here, if it is even considered a problem. A false love that would harm a child by giving out hugs when discipline is called for. Unfortunately, the struggle I see is overwhelmingly obeying God’s commands in Proverbs 13:24 and Proverbs 19:18. That is my idea for pouring on the love (and, yes, with hugs and baking cookies and all that) that really requires a whole lot of love (and grace from the Lord). For me, that is the tough part! 🙂

  8. I think you are so right on! My four children are all different and have varying levels and needs for affection.

    Angie, I think you may be confusing showing love with permissiveness. A loving mother sets firm boundaries. You can still show love while correcting your child, and while letting them know that certain behaviors are unacceptable.

    Showing love comes in many forms, like cuddling under a blanket while watching a movie, or just reaching over and tucking a curl behind an ear with a smile. Sometimes it’s a “love pat” on the bottom with a wink, an extra long hug and “I love you” before bedtime, or a little “love note” in their lunch bag. The great thing is that most kids will give you cues when they need that extra attention. The trick is to listen while they’re young, before they (sadly) learn to quit asking.

    So, hold that little hand while you’re walking them to school. Give them that extra hug when you’re sending them off to play. And always, always tell them how much you love them.

  9. Mrs. Wilson,

    I wholeheartedly agree with you, and have seen this play itself out time and again with my small brood. Thanks for the timely reminder.

    I have also found that sometimes my squeakier wheels get the grease, while the needs of the quieter children might be neglected. So in my case it’s important to do a frequent scan of each child and make sure that nobody has fallen through the cracks.

    With love and thanks,

  10. This is indeed true, Nancy. This is something about children that I never realized before I had my own! I assumed that it would be very important to make sure that all my love and attention was doled out equally among my children so as not to appear to have a favorite, etc. Actually, what I learned is that dishing it out “equally” doesn’t quite meet the mark for all of them. Some do really need more love, reassurance, and physical affection than others. It’s just how God has fashioned them, just as they also have different interests and preferences. And sometimes I find that these needs change for my children depending on what’s going on with each of them at the moment. It takes a prayerful and attentive mama to discern whose little tanks are full and whose are not!

    Thank you for encouraging us in this and in so many other areas! You are a blessing to us all!

  11. Thank you Mrs Wilson, very timely for me. My husband has needed to travel quite a bit recently and for the next few months and being the only parent around many days has made me need to pay even more attention to the needs of my little ones.

    My oldest two are girls (5 and 4) and very much the two extremes…..the younger one seems to need lots of physical affection and snuggles while my older one seems to crave more verbal praise and affirmation.

    The next two are boys 2 and 5 mo. I am struggling a bit with my 2 and a half year old son…..he is still little enough that he needs plenty of snuggle and reading time but he also seems to really (and understandably) need some….well, for lack of a better term, barbarian time ;o) We really try to encourage masculinity in our home and when my husband is here there is no end to the wrestling and sword fights. I’m not opposed to wielding the Nerf sword in my husband’s absence and trying to play more fun boy games but it doesn’t seem quite the same.

    Do you or any other women have ideas for filling little boy tanks during seasons of Daddy void?

  12. Sally,

    I couple years ago we went through a stretch of my husband traveling during the week and only being home on weekends. My two boys were 3 & 5 at the time. We have family in the area, and so my brothers would sometimes come over and wrestle with them, but another outlet that seemed to help the boys was meeting at a park with wide-open spaces (and dig-able dirt, preferably) with a family that has slightly older (7-10) small boys. My guys ate up everything those boys did and said and mimicked them for days thereafter — it seemed to feed their need for boyness. 🙂

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