The need for love and connection is a deeply human desire. We are gifted with the need for it at birth and require comfort and care just as much as we need oxygen to breathe, sustenance to stay strong, and shelter to keep us safe. Even before we reach adulthood, we know that sometimes the words “I love you” fall flat and convey nothing, that sometimes they mean everything, and that sometimes small acts of care say those three words a million times.

Love is continuously escaping our depth of understanding. We don’t know why, but love is essential to our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. We are able to feel the effects of love in every fibre of our being. It’s felt in our DNA. If in tune with ourselves, we can sense when we are feeling loved and when we aren’t. When this occurs, it’s hard to understand what causes such assurances or describe how it feels but, nevertheless, we know.

While sitting with my three-month old grandson recently, I was able to see first-hand how an act of love, or lack thereof, can be felt. We sat connecting and enjoying each other’s company. I looked him in the eyes and stroked his little nose. While all my attention was on him, he was relaxed and full of joy and smiles. When a ping from my phone drew my attention and away from the munchkin, I turned back to see him much less relaxed. In fact, he had stopped smiling completely and looked tense and agitated. At such a young age, he was able to denote when he was feeling loved and when he wasn’t, and I was able to tell how much it affected him.

As children, we sadly do not get the right kind of love. The world is simply confused about what it means to really help someone feel that you care about them—that they’re loved. Love comes along with our own distractions, and we are often so wrapped up in ourselves that we do not notice when someone is not receiving the love they deserve from us.

We often say “I love you” to express how much someone means to us. But if the love is right, you shouldn’t have to say anything at all. “I love you” can be said in hundreds of other ways without uttering a word (or three). Thanks to popular culture, the three words have a weighted meaning equal to that of Mt. Everest. They are heavy words and we want to hear them because they make us feel important and cared after.

But saying “I love you” to a child doesn’t make them feel loved. Providing support, care, affection, and attention is what puts a smile on their face and joy in their eyes, and the same goes for everyone, regardless of age. Those three words, no matter what popular culture dictates, are only as effective as the actions we put behind them.