Every child needs to feel lovable, just as he needs air to breathe. In order to feel lovable, kids need to be loved. That’s obvious. But it’s not enough that we love them, they have to feel loved. They have to get the message. There’s a multitude of ways we can show a child that they are special, but what works for one child won’t necessarily be meaningful for another. Love means something different to all of us, children included. Children need to be loved in ways that fit their own unique needs and personalities. If we listen, if we observe carefully, if we really tune in to our children’s worlds, they’ll show us just how to make them feel special.
There are some universal truths when it comes to feeling valued. All children will respond when we really listen to them. When we show a genuine and focussed interest in what they are saying or doing, we communicate that their world is important to us. When we accept them for who they are, and encourage them to follow their own dreams, not our own, we let them know that they’re loved and lovable. When we provide a climate of nurturing, support and trust, they learn that they are worthy of love, and will grow to believe in their own worth.
It’s often the little things we do that can brighten our child’s day, and make them feel special. Here are some ideas to add to the special things you already do. Have some fun trying them out with your child, and see which ones fit your child’s needs.
How many ways can you find to say, “I love you”? “I’m so happy I have you for a daughter”. “Nothing you could ever do would change my loving you”. Try saying it a little differently each day. What about a surprise note in the lunchbox, or a sign on his bedroom door, proclaiming, “You’re so very special to me”. Get really crazy and write it in the snow.
Kids love to receive mail. Why not send your child a funny greeting card or simple letter, just because.
Write a list of your child’s unique characteristics, the things you appreciate about them. Share it with them, and remind them of these things regularly.
Draw up a special certificate to acknowledge the little things – a cheerful day full of smiles, cooperative play between brothers, helpful behaviors.
Celebrate often. Don’t wait for the milestones and birthdays. Take turns letting your children have a day just for them. On “Sarah’s Day”, she could plan the menu for dinner and choose a game to play together as a family.
Show off their work. Post their artwork on the fridge. Create a scrapbook of their treasures. Send copies off to grandparents to let them know how proud you are.
Compliment your child regularly, but be more creative than, “You’re great!” Be sure to be specific and descriptive about what you like about your child or their behaviors. Say, “I see your printing looks very neat”, “You really showed you were reading the play when you made that pass”, or “ I love the way you put that outfit together”. This encourages your children to recognize the many reasons they are valued.
Make it a mission to search for positive things to say. Parenting so often involves the need to correct, to discipline and to referee that it’s easy to let a day go by without much positive focus. Why not make it a goal to notice more and more of the things that you value about your children. When you acknowledge the things you love, your interactions with your children will communicate more love and respect for them.
Create a special bedtime ritual of sharing the day’s highlights with each child. Focus on what they felt good about during their day. Model positive, supportive self-talk with them and always encourage them to recognize what they did well, no matter how small.
Spend one-on-one time with each child. Rotate children, and take each one of them on regular “dates”. Let them choose the activity and make it a special opportunity to focus on what’s important to them. While it may be inconvenient to arrange, this is one habit that’s worth the effort.
Write a song or poem specifically for them. You don’t have to be totally original, just insert their name into a silly song they know.
Do something spontaneous and wacky. When they ask for chocolate bars for lunch, shock them one day by saying yes, and going to buy some. Laughter and silliness spread good feelings all around, and create a special closeness.
Occasionally steal a moment away from your work or responsibilities to spend time with your child. When your child knows that you chose to be with them, even though you had work to do, you send a powerful message: “you’re valuable to me, the work comes second”.
Let them teach you how to do something that interests them. Learn how to play that video game with your son, or let your daughter lead you in a shared game of Barbies. Get down on the floor and help build the Lego design that your child chooses. Give them your undivided attention, and you give them the message that what they enjoy is important, and worthy of your interest too.
Get to know your children’s friends, and appreciate and acknowledge them too. This is especially important as they approach the teen years. Your children’s friends are an extension of themselves. Any positive interactions you have with their friends will affirm your acceptance of them, and reaffirm their own value.
Remember your child’s favorites, and delight them with a quick trip to the ice-cream store, or surprise them by renting that movie they’re anxious to see. Once in a while, a small gift will tell your child that you’ve been thinking about how much you love them.
Hugs and kisses and cuddling are always powerful messengers of love and affection. Surprise your child at any moment in the day with an unexpected hug, and let them know that you just had to show them how special they are.
When your child is asleep in bed, go in, and sit by the bedside and tell them several things that you admire and appreciate about them. There’s some research evidence to suggest that, even in sleep, the messages will get through. This can work especially well when you’ve both had a bad day, or if a conflict wasn’t fully resolved. It will work for kids who are harder to reach directly – you know, the kid who gets embarrassed with a compliment or just shrugs off praise.
There are countless ways to show your children how special they are. They need to believe “I am lovable” in order to establish the foundation for strong self-esteem. For self-esteem to really flourish, our children also need to believe in their competence and ability to master their environments. In part two of this series, I’ll explore how we can help our children develop the belief, “I am worthwhile, I have something to offer others”.