This Valentine’s Day, 14 ways parents can show love for their children

Claire McCarthy, MD

Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

Follow me on Twitter @drClaire

Valentine’s Day — a day we associate with love. Usually we think of the day in terms of romantic love, with cards and flowers for our partner, but it can also be a day to show love for our children and to think about how we can better make our children feel loved all year round.

When children feel loved, it not only builds happiness, but confidence and resilience, both of which can make a lifelong difference. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests these 14 tips for this February 14th.

1.  Be positive and encouraging when you talk with your children. Skip the sarcasm and put-downs, even if you are joking. Think about the “Golden Rule.” Treat your children the way you’d like to be treated.

2.  Say things like “please,” “thank you,” and “I’m sorry.” Be kind and polite. Not only does it show respect and kindness to your children, it sets a good example about how to talk to people generally.

3.  Respond promptly to your children’s physical and emotional needs, even if it’s not the best time for you. Put aside what you are doing, turn off the TV or computer, and listen or help. It sends the message that your children matter more than anything. Ask them about their day — and pay attention to the answer.

4.  When your children are angry or just in a bad mood, instead of getting angry or in a bad mood yourself, try giving them a quick hug or other sign of affection they respond to — and talking to them about it when they’re feeling better instead of in that moment.

5.  Use nonviolent forms of discipline. All hitting does, besides making children upset and afraid, is teach them that it’s okay to hit, which isn’t a great lesson to learn. Discipline works best when it’s started early and done consistently. From an early age, set rules about behavior, and stick to them — and remember to reward children for following the rules instead of just punishing them for breaking them.

6.  Spend alone time with your children on a regular basis, doing something they enjoy. If you have more than one child, make sure that each one gets some one-on-one time with you.

7.  Spend time together as a family, like family game night, or family outings, and turn off your devices during those family times.

8.  If you can, get a pet. Having a pet can be not just fun but can help children learn lessons about caring for someone and being responsible. If it’s a dog that needs walking it can make them more active. And no matter what it is, it gives them another friend.

9.  Cook and eat together. Cooking together teaches children about good food choices and gives them cooking skills they can take into adulthood. Eating family meals brings families together and can be a great opportunity to connect and hear about each other’s lives and ideas. Turn off all phones during meals (including yours).

10.  Speaking of devices… don’t let them take over your children’s lives. Read to your children and encourage reading as they grow. Limit the amount of “screen time,” both by having time limits but also by having other things to do, like arts and crafts, building toys, and other things that encourage creativity and imagination (and are fun).

11.  Take your children to the doctor regularly for checkups — and listen to your doctor’s advice about healthy diet, safety, sleep, and physical activity. Follow that advice yourself, too, so you are setting a good example.

12.  Help your children build positive relationships with siblings, friends, and others. Set a good example by inviting friends and neighbors to share a meal, and by joining community activities.

13.  Help your children learn their strengths — and learn to believe in themselves. This involves not just supporting them but giving the independence they need to become competent and capable — and learn from their mistakes.

14.  Don’t forget to say, “I love you.” Not just now, but for the rest of their lives.

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