Those of us who find joy in supporting children and youth spend countless hours searching for resources to support them: the perfect curriculum, the least demoralizing behavior management system, and, of course, money. But what happens after we secure those resources? Once online access to the curriculum is granted and all training modules completed? After the color charts and clipboards have been adjusted? Once funds have been allocated? When it is time for children to walk to the door, what will they see?

I hope it is love. 

Many scholars in education have questioned the place of love in childcare and school settings, framing it as pedagogical, revolutionary, or professional. And despite the roads they traversed to get to their unique descriptions of love, each scholar arrived at this exact location: children and youth need love to thrive. Seamless lesson plans and well-stocked toolkits, necessary as they may be, are no substitute for love.

But there is a tension in discussions about loving children. Where there is talk of love and affection, there is concern for abuse. Valid. So, after all the safeguards and boundaries are set, there must still be love.

Imagine a young girl who is always in trouble, an infamous “problem child.” Perhaps she talks too much, does too little, and never listens; try as you might, you cannot get through to her. Now, let’s think a little more. What do you know about her? What of her home life, and how she feels? What is her favorite color, and what snacks does she like? When she talks out of turn, what does she say, and is there a twinkle in her eye when she says it? Adults, we are so sure of ourselves sometimes. We know best in some situations but certainly don’t know everything, so, what is she attempting to communicate through her behavior? Suppose you humbled yourself and asked her a question she knows the answer to and you don’t – what would you learn? 

Try it. Your relationship with this “problem child” will change: you’ll understand her better, respond more appropriately, and anticipate and meet her needs faster. That is love.

And, to your surprise, you might discover that the only problem she had was that she needed to be seen and heard. That, too, is love.