Defining Love Through Action

How many times a day do you say or hear “I love you”? The statement “I love you” is what many adults perceive as the embodiment of love, and yet children perceive love in a very different way.

READ: PJ Library books showing children’s love toward parents

Young children define love primarily through actions. Ben, an eight year old interviewed as part of The Jubilee Project’s Love Lessons video, shares that when you love someone, “You should treat them like in a special way. Like if my mom, she wants to like read a book in her bed then my dad, he’ll go to bed, but if my mom wants to watch TV my dad will watch TV.”

Young children’s perception of love goes right to the heart of Judaism’s own perspective on this universal feeling. Mussar leader Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler defined love from the Jewish point-of-view as “giving without expecting to take.” The Hebrew word for love is ahavah, the root of which means “to give.” Love then, according to both Judaism and our children, is defined through the action of giving of one’s time, attention, admiration, and resources.

While parents wait with bated breath for their babies to say “I love you,” it will be several more years until the child really understands what those words mean. That’s not to say that children don’t understand love – they do, just not through words the way that adults do.

Children show love through action. They may ask you to stay with them a few minutes longer at bedtime, attempt to help out in the kitchen while you’re cooking, or follow you around from room to room as you try to straighten up. That’s your child’s way of loving and honoring you.

There’s a Jewish day dedicated to love called Tu B’Av, which falls this year on July 31st. One way to maximize this mini-holiday is by acknowledging the many ways in which your young one loves you.

CELEBRATE: Tu B’Av, the Jewish holiday of love

Recognizing that young children show love through small, subtle actions will help you see all the ways in which your child is expressing the love they feel for you. You might have to slow down a bit in each crazy moment to notice, but it’s there: your child is telling you they love you.