As parents we’re willing to go to great lengths to ensure that our children live the best lives we can give them. But in the midst of the hustle and bustle, it’s easy for the simplest—and most powerful—expressions of love to fall by the wayside. Here, Marianna S. Klebanov, JD, shares eight back-to-basics ways to show your children that you love them.
As parents, we push ourselves to the brink of exhaustion (and often, it seems, insanity) in our quest to raise “super kids.” And of course, we do it all because we love them. But according to Marianna S. Klebanov, JD, that message might be getting lost in translation.
“We intend to demonstrate our love for our children by sending them to great schools, shuttling them back and forth to enriching extracurricular activities, and providing them with the latest gadgets and most stylish clothes,” says Klebanov, co-author along with Adam D. Travis of The Critical Role of Parenting in Human Development. “And yes, doing and providing the best we can for our kids is both admirable and extremely important. But in the midst of all the hectic hustle and bustle, we often forget to supplement these efforts by showing and telling our children that we love them in simple, straightforward ways.”
Clear and abundant expressions of love are necessary for children’s optimaldevelopment—not just emotionally, but psychologically and physically as well, reminds Klebanov. Love is the foundation for all of the qualities we hope to nurture in our kids: self-confidence, health, intelligence, creativity, happiness, the ability to form positive relationships, and much more.
“Your love is the single most important ingredient in your youngsters’ well-being and success,” she confirms.
Here, Klebanov shares eight simple things you can do to demonstrate your love for your children:
Tell your children you love them. Say the words as often as possible. Especially if your children are young, they may not connect your super-parent actions with loving intentions (and may, in fact, misinterpret your motivation as anger or criticism).
Laugh together. As a parent you can’t always be your child’s best friend, but you can and should have fun together on a regular basis. “Taking a break to tell jokes, watch a funny movie, or have a tickle fight demonstrates to your child that you enjoy spending time with him,” Klebanov comments. “Plus, it’s a valuable break for both of you!”
Be generous with compliments. Parental criticism comes from a good place, but if it’s not significantly outweighed by compliments, it can have an unintended negative effect on children’s confidence and self-esteem. “Make it your goal to catch your kids doing things right,” Klebanov instructs. “Compliment them genuinely to encourage these positive behaviors—and watch them light up because of your praise. Remember that compliments create positive connections in your child’s mind because they link good behavior with happiness, unlike criticism, which trains them to behave out of fear.”
Prioritize positive time together. With a limited amount of hours in each day, it can be easy to use each chunk of time we spend with our kids to check something off of the to-do list. For example: “We have only 30 minutes, so let’s focus on cleaning your room/practicing your violin/doing your chores.” “When was the last time you spent positive time with your kids, without trying to accomplish something specific?” Klebanov asks. “If you aren’t sure where to begin, start by eating a meal together at the table instead of in the car or in front of the TV. Better yet, cook it together, too.”
Show affection as often as possible. When parents are affectionate, it positively affects children’s mental health, as well as their social and emotional development. “Don’t wait for ‘expected’ times like dropping your child off at school or putting her to bed to show affection,” Klebanov suggests. “Stop to give her a hug and a kiss while she’s doing homework. Slip an ‘I love you’ note into her lunchbox.”
Talk to your kids—and really listen to what they say. Encourage your children to open up to you by asking them for their thoughts and opinions. Listen and respond non-judgmentally to what they tell you. “Validating your children’s worth and individuality by giving them your undivided attention and respect is a powerful way to show your love,” Klebanov states.
Give them the responsibilities and freedoms they’ve earned. You may want your kids to stay little forever, but they’re growing physically, emotionally, and psychologically every day. Even if it’s bittersweet for you, give them privileges and responsibilities that are appropriate for their ages and maturity levels. “That said, make sure you’re always there for them when they need you,” Klebanov notes. “Even older children who think they want nothing more than to be independent need a soft place to land at the end of a difficult day.”
Encourage their talents and endeavors. Don’t forget that your kids are unique human beings with their own interests, abilities, and strengths—many of which may differ from yours! “Help your kids develop their interests and compliment them frequently for their efforts and successes,” Klebanov recommends. “Care about and support your kids’ friendships, too, and their happiness in general. Don’t make unnecessary demands that hold them back.”
“If these recommendations seem simple, well, that’s the point!” Klebanov concludes. “At the end of the day, there is no substitute for straightforward words and actions that let your children know how much you love and care for them.”
Marianna S. Klebanov, JD, is the coauthor of The Critical Role of Parenting in Human Development. She works as an attorney with a specialty in matters relating to child welfare and family violence. She writes a column for Examiner.com on issues relating to parenting, child abuse prevention, and brain development.
To learn more, please visit www.anewconversationonparenting.com.