Five Daily Ways to Show Love to Your Child or Grandchild, from the Practically Speaking MOM
1. Full Eye-Contact Smile
Have you ever walked into a room and someone’s eyes, countenance, and spirit just lit up when they saw you? It probably hasn’t happened too much as those kinds of experiences are rare and wonderful. Doesn’t it make you feel amazing to know that someone likes your presence that much? This is the kind of message we want to try to give our children daily. This includes giving them a genuine smile with full eye contact. It’s a good goal to envision yourself having such a strong feeling of love when you smile at them that your eye sparkles with the delight and happiness that their presence creates.
I know this may sound silly (it feels silly to write it also), but the truth is that it is incredibly stabilizing to our souls to know that someone completely adores us. Our Heavenly Father does, of course, but we are our child’s first understanding and comprehension of what unconditional love looks like and feels like and as we display it well to them, they will better be able to comprehend the boundless love of God towards them.
2. Laugh Together – Getting a little one to laugh is pretty simple. In fact, if you laugh, they’ll pretty much laugh, no matter the reason or for no reason at all. In the early years, tickling them or reading them a silly story are great ways to laugh together, or my favorite of all with a little is to chase them. It’s so fun to just pretend you’re trying to “get them.” It’s so fun to hear a little toddler squeal with delight as they try to hurry away. Good laughs all around from a good chase!
However, it gets more challenging to get your child to laugh as they get older. For an elementary age child, some more things to try are *talking with a funny voice, *showing them a funny picture or telling a joke, *doing something unexpected, such as jumping out and scaring them. Partly it depends on your child’s personality as to what they see as “funny” and what is just “annoying.” One of the great privileges of parenthood is to become a student of your child – figure out the uniqueness’s of his or her personality and perspective.
What makes a middle-schooler laugh? Pretty much anything that you think is ridiculous. Okay, that technically may be an exaggeration on my part, but truly, middle-schoolers are going through such change and self-evaluation that they have a hard time knowing how they feel about many aspects of life, including deciding whether something is humorous, hilarious, or terrible. Keep trying to laugh with them, though, because they really need some comic relief from the stressors they’re dealing with internally.
A pretty reliable form of fun with middle and high school age kids is to develop some “inside jokes.” Our family has bonded over our favorite movies or experiences and sharing a line from a movie or from a good memory brings some quick comedy to the fast-paced routines of a busy family. Taking “selfies” together is another pretty safe bet for middle-schoolers. High school students are often “over” taking selfies, especially with parents, but hey, if yours isn’t then go for it!
In short, laughter creates bonds. The more you laugh with your child the closer you will become. I must confess, I am not a fun or funny person. This one is very hard for me. I am gradually getting better at it. I will say, that I can think of two different times when one of my kids was a teenager and we were clashing a lot, that taking them out for the day (an unplanned time of missing school and just going on a day time parent/teen date and being light-hearted and silly all day) really helped a lot in getting out of that teenage grouchy rut. Don’t underestimate the power of a laugh! (Playing a game together is another great way to bond and make memories. Our favorite quick games are Telestartions, Monopoly Deal, Speed Scrabble, Coup, and Dutch Blitz.)
3. Physical Affection
A squishy hug (no stiff hugs, they don’t count), scratching their back, even a poke in the ribs, or messing with their hair can make your child feel like you enjoy being with them and that you love them so much. Now that some of my children are grown, my husband has gotten into a habit, when we are saying “goodbye” to each of our grown daughters, – he always gets face to face with each daughter, takes her face in his hands and kisses her forehead. Just a small gesture, but I can see it on each face while he does that that it gives her such comfort and confidence to have Daddy’s affection. One of my grown daughters is a mom and the other is a youth director, yet they both are so filled by getting that precious moment of Dad’s physical affection. It doesn’t matter how old they get, our children long for our love, approval, and affection.
4. Verbal Blessing
There are so many great ways to verbally love on your child! Giving her a nickname (well, one she likes), giving her verbal praise for attitudes and actions in which she has recently displayed good character, letting him know specific ways that you are proud of him… these are all ways to verbally bless your child. Of course, when you’re giving a verbal blessing to a toddler, the message needs to be much less complex, such as, “Jamey is such a good boy. He always is careful and brave” or “Jamey, we love you so much!”
Another concept related to this that I mention in my book Wearing All Your Hats without Wearing Out, is the concept of being a VISIONARY in your child’s life – help them see what they cannot yet see in themselves by painting a picture of your child’s qualities that you see in him that is going to shape his future. In fact, in the book, I suggest that being a Visionary in your child’s life is one of the four main roles of a parent. An example of this that I might say to my high school son would be, “Andrew, God has given you such a calm strength in making decisions. I can’t wait to see how God is going to help you lead others with this quality.” Or to my college son I might say, “Josh, I have come to have a lot of confidence in your ability to make objective decisions in tough situations, no matter what you may be feeling on the inside, so I know you’re going to handle this decision well also.”
Or to my thirteen-year-old daughter I may say, “Abby, you have such a compassionate heart and I know that many people will be blessed by your caring for them in their times of need.” You’re setting in your child’s mind a vision of a good future based on the unique qualities that God has given them."
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “self-fulfilling prophecy.” Well, it really is human nature to become what we believe we are. Your child’s actions, choices, and future has everything to do with who they believe they are. This is why we as parents need to give careful consideration to the labels that we give, or others give, to our children.
Our children don’t need to know every clinical label that has been assigned to them. I’m sure for some children it is helpful to know such information but for some of them, the label becomes a definition in their mind – a definition of who they are and all the limitations that are characterized by that label. As your child’s primary Visionary, it is critical that you understand the power of the words spoken over your child.
Sometimes we are unintentionally being a negative visionary in our child’s life. Even little negative nicknames may feel endearing at the time, but it really can affect the child’s self-perception as he or she grows. I speak from experience on this issue. I used to “negative joke” regularly with some of my children and I thought it was just being light-hearted and even bonding, but this was actually weighing them down emotionally and I didn’t realize it. By the time I realized the affect it was having there definitely was no adequate way to do re-do, only do my best to restore and repair.
Regret is one of the worst things in all of life! What’s better than regret, a lot better than regret, is intentionality with our words. Proverbs 18:21 says that “death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits,” (ESV). The words we choose to say to and about our children will bring life or death to their spirits. Choose your words wisely.
Verbalize Your Thoughts about Your Child – When you here that someone has been thinking of you, how does that make you feel? Cherished? Valued? Loved? Our children need to know we’re thinking of them. Face-to-face is great, but cards, stickynotes, text messages, or writing it on their bathroom mirror with a dry erase marker are also great ways to say, “I treasure you.” Here are some ways to verbalize this:
“Today I was just thinking about how thankful I am that God brought you to our family.”
“I have been contemplating a decision about something, and I’d really value your thoughts on this issue.”
“I’ve really been missing you today, so I wanted to check-in with you and see how you’re doing.”
“When I spend time praying for you today, is there anything specific that you’d like me to be praying about?”
“Recently, I have been thinking about all the ways you are a blessing to our family. Thank you for your love and smile and caring that you give to all of us. You are such a valuable part of our family.”
5. Family Identity– When you give your family a solid healthy identity, you give your children the gift of belonging. Belonging provides a sense of safety and love. What defines your family?
Every family has an identity – what you’re “about,” what you stand for, what your beliefs are about God and His role in the hearts, lives, and minds of the individuals in your home, what you cheer for together, how you spend your together time, what you celebrate, what you focus on, how you interact, how you serve one another, how you serve others. What is your family identity? Parents need to be INTENTIONAL about shaping their family’s identity.
What you as the parent say about your family reflects what you believe about each family member and the collective group. Family identity can include a team you all support (Go Michigan!) or joint activities that you like to do together (we’re a musical family), or it can be how you serve in your church and community together (being a service-minded family is very bonding, improves self-esteem in each participant, and fills all hearts that are involved.
Adding service to your family identity is incredibly bonding, strengthening, and rewarding! In fact, hard work together can be a great way to grow your relationship with your kids, as long as you throw in some celebration for a job well done and a little levity throughout the work. My husband is great at doing that- bonding through work with our kids. He knows how to make work fun. I don’t do well at that but I do try to celebrate at the end of the job.)
One way that we build our family “branding” is how we communicate standards to our kids. We might say, “Our family cares about one another and that wasn’t a caring response to your sister. Let’s do that over and this time focus on being caring while you do that.” Or I’ve been known to say on many occasions, “In this family our biggest relationship value is honesty. If we can’t trust one another to be honest, then we’re not valuing each other or our relationship with each other. We’re going to always choose truth in this family.”
A family identity isn’t constructed all-at-once, it is developed moment-by-moment. Family identity IS being created constantly throughout each day in every family, whether you’re thinking about it or not. Choose to design your “family brand” through intentional moments. Intentional moments are worth the time and energy you invest in them, after all, you’re creating a masterpiece!
If you’d like more information about your family as God’s masterpiece, you can check out my books in the series, “Our Family God’s Masterpiece.”