For 8-year-old, actions speak louder than words when it comes to 'I love you'

PARENT Q & A

June 11, 2000|By T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. | T. Berry Brazelton, M.D.,NEW YORK TIMES SPECIAL FEATURES

Q. What is your opinion of an 8-year-old boy who cannot say "I love you"? When I ask him why he cannot say the words, he replies that he really doesn't understand what they mean.

I have tried to explain by giving examples of what love means, but he doesn't seem to understand.

He seems to have difficulty expressing his feelings of like or dislike. When asked if he had a good time at a birthday party, he can't seem to give a definitive answer. If I try to talk to him about it, he gets upset.

Now I just say "I love you" without expecting any reply. I have told him it's OK not to say it if he doesn't feel it and that maybe someday he will.

He is otherwise affectionate, giving and receiving hugs and kisses. I have raised him myself in a loving household. We left his abusive father when he was 2 and haven't had any contact since.

I have tried to provide a stable, loving environment for him to flourish in, but this one thing nags at me.

A. It sounds as if you may be embarrassing your son by pushing him so hard. He expresses himself behaviorally. Let that be enough.

In a single-parent family, it may feel too close or too uncomfortable for him to have to use adult expressions such as "I love you." Respect his clear decision, and don't push him on this.

Address questions to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, care of the New York Times Syndication Sales Corp., 122 E. 42nd St., New York, N.Y. 10168. Questions of general interest will be answered in this column; unpublished letters cannot be answered individually.

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