Every single night, my son calls out from his room, “Mommy, can we have a snuggle?” I say yes for two reasons: because I know one day he’s going to stop asking (sigh) and because during the quiet at the end of the day all I have to do is put my to-do list on hold for a few moments to be rewarded with insight into his thoughts and feelings — plus the knowledge that I’m making him feel loved and secure.Photo: iStockphoto
This sounds simple, right? But think about how wake-ups usually go in your house. In mine, they all too often involve an unsmiling me saying, “Wake up, come on! Do you want to be late for school?” The mornings where I take a moment to kiss a forehead or rub a back are always the best ones, though. Starting a day off with smiles and laughter can set a happy and loving tone for the rest of the day (and close the door on parent guilt sneaking up mid-afternoon!).
“Part of showing a child true, unconditional love means that parents or caregivers hold space for them to express themselves freely,” says spiritual parenting expert Christine Marrin.
You’re probably more likely to be supportive of your child’s self-expression when it’s positive but it’s important to allow negative self-expression, too. Resist the urge to immediately judge or correct when your child voices a negative emotion. Instead, talk it out, be supportive and build the kind of trust that means your child will naturally come to you when she needs a shoulder.Photo: iStockphoto
“As in really listen, without distraction, to any stories they would like to share,” says Marrin.
All too often, I find myself only half-listening to something one of my children is saying as I focus instead on making dinner, cleaning up, or even checking email. (For shame!) “Look at me with your eyes, Mommy,” my daughter recently said when she was trying to tell me something and I wasn’t truly present. Since then, I’ve made an effort to listen, often kneeling down so I can look with my eyes. And if I can’t listen right that second I tell her when I will be able to listen and I follow through.Photo: iStockphoto
“For example, even though you might feel very loved and cherished if your spouse arrives home from work with flowers for you, someone else might feel loved when her spouse empties the dishwasher for her,” says Marrin.
Learn what it is that makes your child feel special, instead of making assumptions about how he experiences and feels love.
Children get a lot of what they’re supposed to do, feel, and eat dictated to them. Asking for their input makes them feel respected and empowered. Ask your child to be involved in the decisions you make as a family, from what to have for meals to what to do with your collective leisure time. This doesn’t mean giving your child the reins completely but it does mean taking feelings and preferences into account.Photo: iStockphoto
Make his bed for him as a surprise, even though it’s one of his daily jobs. Pack a note in her lunch. Take him out for an impromptu hot chocolate on the way home from school. Spell her name with berries on her breakfast plate. These little acts of kindness will make your child feel just as loved as you do when your spouse, a friend or a family member performs them for you.Photo: iStockphoto
Book a monthly date with each of your children. “This helps to deepen the bond and relationship with them,” says Marrin. “It provides us with an opportunity to share our lives with them and find out what is happening in their worlds. It allows for longer converstions to unfold that might not occur during our day-to-day lives.”
Marrin also suggests letting your child decide what the “date” will entail (within reason) and making sure the dates are regularly scheduled so that even when life gets busy, your child will know her special time is coming up.
Just as making empty threats can damage your relationship (“If you don’t stop doing that, I’m taking all your toys away!”) So can making empty promises. Life happens and some things can’t be avoided, but making promises we know we can’t keep in order to placate a child will only foster feelings of mistrust and insignificance. So before you make a promise, be fairly sure you can follow through — and if you have to break it, explain why.
A child can never hear the words “I love you” too much. Say it before you say goodbye in the morning and when you tuck them in at night, yes — but also say it when your child might not be expecting it, like when he’s acting up or when she’s feeling contrary. During these times, when you say, “I love you,” she’ll hear, “I love you anyway, even when you’re not at your best.”
And this is something we all need to be assured of, as often as possible, because it’s at the root of unconditional love.Photo: iStockphoto