Your children are your world—but do they know that? They don’t have crystal balls, and they’re desperate to please you. After all, to them, you represent safety, guidance—and, hopefully, unconditional love.
It doesn’t take much time to reinforce your child’s belief that you will always have their backs. A few simple words or meaningful gestures mean more than expensive toys or family trips to theme parks. Incorporate these practices into your daily routine, so that when you tuck them in at night, the last thing you’ll hear is, “I love you, too.”
1. Send Them Off with a Smile. Think about the tragic events in recent history. When you reflect on wildfires and mass shootings, most of the victims affected started their days like any other. You never know, and you don’t want the last words you say to your beloved little one to come out in anger. Plus, if you part on a sour note, you’ll spend the day ruminating over what you could have done differently instead of working productively. Even if your second-grader exasperated you with a last-minute forgotten assignment, say, “I love you, and I hope you have a fabulous day,” as you part ways in the morning.
2. Ask How Their Day Was. Do you complain that your children never talk to you? Have you checked your listening skills? Asking, “How was your day?” and genuinely listening to the response can move the conversation gently from everyday topics to more significant subject matter. Your children won’t confide in you that their friend offered them drugs or alcohol, for example, if you responded with a noncommittal, “uh-huh,” when they tried to tell you about a simple spelling test.
3. Play with Them. Play helps children manage their emotions and fosters positive feelings so get down in the sandbox and help your child build a castle. Invent a crazy story with dolls and stuffed animals.
4. Facilitate Friendships. As much as you enjoy being the center of your child’s world, they need healthy friendships. Take your kids to the park and encourage interaction with others. Coach them on how to manage stressful situations, such as asking a group of other children to play a game. Encourage empathy and inclusion toward those left out.
5. Praise Appropriate Behavior. Punishing your children for wrongdoing never works as well as praising them for what they did right. If your little one reaches out to the child sitting alone on the sidelines, applaud them for showing compassion. If they pick up their toys without you asking first, compliment how tidy their room looks.
6. Cook Dinner Together. Food nourishes both the body and the soul, so get in the kitchen together. Plus, showing your children how to prep healthy meals gives them a vital skill they’ll need later in life. What better way to show you care than to preserve their future selves?
7. Read a Story. Children with parents who read with them tend to perform better academically. Plus, you can use the power of storytelling to celebrate qualities like diversity and acceptance. Nearly every tot sleeps more soundly when their parents’ voice lulls them to slumberland.
8. Hold Their Hand. Once your child is old enough not to take off in a crowded market, you might resist holding their hand. After all, you don’t want to embarrass them. However, continuing to hold their hand reinforces their sense of security.
9. Listen without Interrupting. Too often, we listen to respond, not to understand. If your angel comes home, spewing a veritable flood about their day, listen without interrupting. You can ask questions for clarification later—for the moment, share their enthusiasm.
10. Introduce Them to New Things. Many psychologists theorize that children arrive in this world as a tabula rasa—and you, the parent, write the intro to their story. Let your children know they inhabit a vast world with tons of experiences to explore. Order a new dish at a restaurant and split it with them. Take them to the planetarium or a museum—explore this beautiful planet together.
11. Spend Time in Nature. As a parent, you probably worry about how climate change will impact your children’s future. Research indicates that children who spend time in nature become better environmental stewards. Spend a sunny Saturday hiking at a nearby nature center. Tend to your garden side by side.
12. Hang Their Art on the Fridge. Is your baby a budding young Picasso? Encourage their artistic endeavors by proudly displaying their works on your refrigerator. As they get older, have particularly creative pieces framed to hang in your living area. The world would be a drab place indeed without artists.
13. Hug Them. Finally, even older children need a hug regardless of whether they resist showing it. When the occasion calls for it, give your child a hug to show them how proud you are of them. Put your arm around them while they cry on your shoulder. Let them know that your love is non-threatening and unconditional.