I have four kids that span in age from 5 to 16—three girls and one boy. It doesn’t matter their age or their gender, here are three things that work to make my kids feel like they are special and unique. And they will work for you.
(Side note: I don’t have the corner market on these three things, and I don’t think I’m the first to think of it. Wait…nope, not the first. So, consider this a reminder to things you have heard before.)
I’m not one for snuggling much after the age of about ten. Maybe it’s because once they become almost as big as me, the darling and sweet moments of holding them in my lap is replaced with gasping for air while trying not to wince from the pain of a boney bottom on my femur. So, I adjust. I go from holding and snuggling and picking them up over and over, to sitting by them on the couch and putting my arm around them. I exchange the double-arm, double-leg wrap around my neck and waist, for a long hug in the hallway when they get home. I swap out sloppy kisses for gentle cheek kisses before bed.
Touch is tricky. Some of us love it, thrive on it, can’t wait to be touched by another human because it feeds a place in our spirit. Others of us can go for days without even so much as a handshake. But, let’s stick to the middle of the road here. God created us with nerve endings that talk to our brain and vice versa. We are created to respond to touch and those responses trigger emotions that then make a path in our mind that could either feel love or hate. We all know that not all touch is equal. Some is life giving. Some is life stealing. As parents, we have the awesome responsibility to give them the gift of touch that holds hands with the gift of security, love, and feeling awesome.
If you are someone who hands out hugs and touches like cake at a birthday party, keep it up…but don’t smother. If you are someone who doesn’t need to be touched all the time, chances are you gave birth to someone who does, so dish it out. We all need it at some level. And your kids need it most.
Give more hugs. Throw up high-fives all the time. Slip a kiss on the forehead. Snuggle those toddlers as much as you can. Sometimes just “force” your teenager to hug you and make it fun (Make sure you aren’t doing that in public. Just keeping it real. Force them at home.) If your teen is a hugger, let them be that.
Use the gift of touch to make your kids feel awesome. Sometimes, it speaks louder than words. Sometimes, it should be our only words.
It’s no secret that laughter is good for you, so imagine using that gift with your kids. I know, there are as many scenarios with our kids as there are families, so some of you might feel like that teen just doesn’t like you and there is no way they are going to laugh. Others might have little ones that the giggles come easy. There is also those years from about eight to twelve where what they think is funny, well, isn’t. But, we must march on!
Finding the funny can take some trying. We might bust a move from our high school dance days and think we could get a good applause and we look and our kids are writhing in laughter. Okay, not the response you may have wanted, but let’s count that as a win. They thought it was funny. Sure, it was at your expense, but it’s worth it. Go with it. Be goofy. Laugh heartily. Be amused at how goofy they are. Watch those silly shows on TV and let it be funny to you.
Let’s just be real here and let those bodily noises be something that is hilarious. You know they are, so don’t try and be so weird about it. Laugh with them.
Tickle those little ones and let them tickle you. (This harkens back to the #1). Read silly books and make yourself giggle with your toddlers and little kids. Make funny faces and act out characters from the books you have. My kids become captivated when I use different voices in their stories. It adds so much to the moment and fills their little love banks until they are overflowing.
With older kids, turn on an appropriate TV show, or an old TV show, turn down the volume just a little bit, and add your own lines. You will roar with laughter and you’ll be surprised how funny and creative they are.
Go to a park and race. That is for sure to bring some laughter. See a G-rated movie. Tell them funny stories from your childhood around the dinner table. Show them old pictures of you and let them roll with laughter. Try to do a full exercise routine with them because we all know this is a sure fire way to get some chuckles.
A shared experience that involves some true gut-wrenching laughs is one they will cherish forever.
I have a five year old who likes to tell me every detail to his Lego Star Wars game. I have a sixteen year old who likes to tell me every detail of her night at youth group. I have a seven year old who likes to talk about gymnastics and what kind of new shoes she wants until she almost can’t breathe. I have a fifteen year old who likes to tell me what she learned at church and how it touched her.
All of these require more of my ears than my mouth. All of these moments when I talk less and listen more do nothing but show my kids that they are valued and heard. Now, I’m not not talking and sending the signal that I don’t care. I’m reacting. Asking questions. Nodding my head. Trying not to cut them off so I can get back to whatever I was doing. I’m listening.
Listening is more than just hearing what they are saying. Listening is ingesting what they are saying so you’ll have something to grow on. What is important to them may not mean a hill of beans to you, and you also know that your decades of experience ahead of them makes you want to gently say, “Honey, all this doesn’t matter when you’re a grown up.” Don’t do that. Listen and learn to resist the temptation to always give advice, or always remind them that things aren’t as important when you get older. They are important to them now. Sure, we know that we can give advice and we can help encourage them to see just beyond their circumstance, but the reality is, they just really can’t see that far. They are in their moment, their reality, and we have to meet them there with love, encouragement, and patience.
Touching our kids, laughing with our kids, and listening to our kids are just three ways to make them feel awesome. It’s not money, it’s not always in our words and tweets and Facebook posts. It’s in our interaction and in the moments we have now that matter.