By Jordan O’Keefe, LMSW
#5: Healthy Touch
Touch is just one way that parents can show affection, provide comfort, and assure children of their presence and love. Initiating a high-five, giving a hug or a pat on the back, creating a secret handshake, finger painting, giving manicures and pedicures, styling hair, doing “guess the letter” back massages, or even helping a small child wash their hands are all simple and creative ways to weave healthy touch into your daily interactions with your children.
#4: Character Praise
Be sincere! When you notice your child has put forth effort, compliment them in your own special way. Rather than praising your child for just their accomplishment, praise their character and efforts, too. Instead of praising the test grade alone, praise their perseverance in studying – even when it was difficult! When they go out of their way to help someone, praise their attentiveness, empathy, and kindness. Character praise improves your child’s sense of self-worth by showing them you love them for who they are, and not only for what they can do.
#3: Quality Time
Normally you expect your child to follow you, but sometimes it’s fun and relaxing to let them take the lead. Carve out time together to do what your child wants to do. Allow them to take charge through choice. Whether it be choosing their favorite flavor of ice cream, a special book or movie, or anything your child is interested in (Minecraft, anyone?), let your kiddo know you can be a part of something they love, and that you want to be a part of loving them! Be creative and think of ways to spend time together that meet the special age, needs and history of your child.
#2: Permission to Process Feelings
All feelings are okay. Allow your child to tell you what they sincerely feel, even when you don’t agree. While it is not okay to hurt themselves or others, children are encouraged to use their words to express emotions to you. Model these behaviors by being truly honest with yourself and by saying things like “I know, I feel angry about that, too” to help them learn how to process their emotions. When we are honest with our own feelings, and we share that in a way that is developmentally appropriate for our children, we are giving our children permission to experience their emotions, and to be honest with us.
#1: Give the Gift of Play
Joyful connection is the foundation for a strong, nurtured bond with your child. Playing teaches your child that they are safe, and that you are in tune with their wants and needs. While playing, be sure to focus on eye contact, touch, and following their lead. Be intentional and find at least five minutes each day for one-on-one engagement. Even a simple game of peek-a-boo can have long-term positive effects of building strong bonds with your child.