BY SUSAN NEWMAN, PH.D.
When your child was an infant, it was easy to show her how special she was. Gazing into her eyes during quiet moments, singing lullabies as you rocked her to sleep at night, it was easy to snuggle her close to you in a tight embrace when she wasn’t big enough to run away from you.
Now that your child is older, more independent, it can be more difficult to find special moments where you can show how much she means to you. A busy child may not want to slow down for those tight snuggles or sit still long enough to hear how much you care. And often, as children reach school age, they let you know that the hugs and kisses will not be tolerated at school. It’s not cool at all to show public affection around their peers. But don’t be fooled—all kids need to be told just how special they are.
So what can a parent do to show how much their child means to them? As they get older, kids respond more to what you DO rather than what you SAY. Here are some tips:
15 Easy Ways to Make Your Children Feel Special Every Day
1. Ask caring questions each day: How was your spelling test? The book fair? The game?
2. Tell your child you love him a minimum of once a day.
3. Wear whatever “jewels” your child makes or buys for you. Display his artwork; use his clay vases and bowls.
4. Get excited when your child tells you about his day or latest accomplishment. Nodding your head is not enough.
5. Request a “kid fix” (a hefty hug and kiss) whenever you feel the need and let your child know it makes you feel better.
6. If you’re out for the evening, call in a goodnight kiss and promise an in-person one as soon as you return.
7. Sing while she plays; play while she sings or dances. Duets are very supportive, often memorable and usually hilarious.
8. Use the mail to surprise your child with a comic book, a sports player’s card, or fancy pencil.
9. Send an email card if he has his own email address.
10. Ask your child what was the best and worst part of his day—every day.
11. Put a note in her lunch box that says, “I love you.”
12. Keep a chair next to your desk so your child can visit or chat.
13. Ask about your child’s friends regularly.
14. Prepare the grocery list together; ask your child for dinner suggestions.
15. Compliment your child and let her overhear you complimenting her to someone else—a relative or friend.
Do something ridiculous: chase your child through the house, start a pillow fight.
“You never know what silliness or gesture will become a ‘little thing long remembered’—embedded warmly and happily in a child’s mind forever,” says Newman. “Simple acts, more than expensive gifts, have a way of becoming treasured remembrances of growing up and of you. Little things do mean a lot, especially to children.”
Show and Tell
“It’s easy for parents to take it for granted that their children know that they are loved—we feed them, clothe them, protect them from harm, play with them, and so on. But you never really know what’s going on in their minds unless you talk to them about it,” says John Kelly, a father of two from Toronto, Ontario. “Hugs and kisses are great, but you have to tell your kids how you feel.”
It’s no secret that children who grow up knowing they are loved will, more times than not, turn out to have higher self-esteem and healthier social and personal relationships than those who feel they were unloved as children. It only takes a moment to create a lasting memory—a pat on the back, a kind word of encouragement and spending time one-on-one with your child will strengthen their belief in their own self-worth and build on the loving relationship between parent and child.
“I started these special nights that I call ‘book camp’ this year with my 6 and 4-year-old,” says Lisa Alize, a mom from Lawrenceville, Ga. “When I figured out my son had a bit of difficulty with his reading, I decided to make it a daily routine to read every night after bath. We set up ‘book camp’ in our queen size bed with three gigantic pillows, comfy flannel sheets, me in the middle with one small child on my right and another small child on my left. They gather two books a piece and we let ourselves relax at the end of a full day and get lost in a magic tree house, dragon’s lair, ballerina dance studio, or whatever else in my children’s book menu for the night. I can’t remember when we didn’t have these special nights. We all look forward to them.”
It can be just the simple things, like reading with your child, that mean so much to him. By taking the time to share those quiet moments together, you are letting him know that he is special and that you enjoy spending time with him.
“With four children—it is often hard to find the time to spend with each of them,” says David Morrison, a dad from Lawrenceville, Ga. “In order to be sure they each get time with me, I take one of them out for a coffee and donut date on Saturday mornings. It isn’t much, but it shows them that I will always be here for them, no matter what. Even my oldest, who is now 18, looks forward to our coffee time.”
Morrison says that it isn’t necessarily the amount of time you spend with them, but what you do with it. “When I take them out, I reminisce with the kids. We talk about funny things they have done over the years and they love that. It makes them feel special when I share those memorable moments with them.”
Easy as 1-2-3
“‘Catch’ your child doing good,” says Lucien T. Winegar, Ph.D., professor of psychology and dean of the School of Natural & Social Sciences at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Penn. “This is a long-practiced technique of preschool teachers as in, ‘I like the way you asked Suzie to share her blocks with you.’ Communicate your appreciation when children assist or support others.” Winegar says it’s important that parents help children recognize how a task or activity that previously was impossible or difficult for them has now gotten easier (tying shoe laces is a good example). “Help your child translate their talents from areas of success to areas of challenge. A child who is feeling left out of an activity may be encouraged to participate by using their strengths in other areas. If they are not athletic, but good at math, they might still be an important part of a baseball team if they help keep the team’s statistics.”
By building on these small accomplishments, focusing our attention on their strengths and recognizing them to our children, it helps them see that they are unique and special people.
Excerpted with permission from Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day by Susan Newman, Ph.D.