Letting your children know you care doesn’t take cash – just a dash of time and effort. These 12 small ideas, gathered from parents and experts around the world, can mean a huge deal to any kid, from toddler to teen. They’re perfect for Valentine’s Day – or to stash away for any time of the year.
1. Brag a bit
“Let your child overhear you bragging about her to your spouse, friend or relative – but make sure your other child isn’t within earshot!” suggests Carol Weston, author of Girltalk: All the Stuff Your Sister Never Told You.
2. Hit the kitchen
Whether you’re baking valentine cupcakes with gooey pink icing or simply cutting up veggies for a Thursday-night stir-fry, include your child in age-appropriate kitchen tasks. It’s a great time to catch up after the school day. Older kids can cut the snow peas or man the stove, with supervision. And kids ages toddler to teen will enjoy helping you spread that icing. Don’t forget to lick the beaters!
3. Create a game
“Instead of sending lunch notes to school, we send riddles,” says Kate Kelly, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Parenting a Teenager. “On Day 1, our daughter gets a riddle. On Day 2, she gets the answer and a tiny bag of chocolate chips that she can eat or give as a ‘prize’ to the person who guesses the answer. She’s 16 – definitely past the ‘lunch note’ stage – but when she sometimes calls my husband at the office on Day 1 (when the kids are arguing over the answer), it’s clear that she enjoys the fact that we’re willing to spend some time brightening her day.”
4. Say ‘I’m thinking of you’
Put fresh flowers on your child’s desk or other homework area with a note that says, “I know you had a hard day” or “I’m so proud of you!” suggests Weston.
5. Watch a valentine flick
Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown is a great one to rent or add to your queue. This classic and much-loved Peanuts story centers on the romantic yearnings of Charlie Brown. As Valentine’s Day approaches, Lucy tries to get Schroeder to give her a card, Sally chases after Linus and poor Charlie Brown dreams of getting just one valentine. Even Snoopy’s mailbox is stuffed with red, heart-shaped cards!
6. Go for the unexpected
“I like to surprise my kids with their favorite dessert for no reason at all. I love to see the look on their faces,” says Manhattan Beach, Calif. mom Lina Moy. “I sometimes give my 9-year-old son a day where no one tells him what to do,” says Elizabeth Crane of San Francisco. “It’s really hard to do, but he really enjoys it!”
7. Jazz up communication
“Send your older child loving emails now and then, complete with bold or colorful letters,” suggests Weston. “Or after a big event, send an email to your child saying, ‘I didn’t want to embarrass you in public after the game, but I was so proud of you that I just have to gush: You were awesome out there! Four serves in a row! You’re a star!'”
8. Make your kid the hero
Extended family also can get into the game, says W. Thomas Smith Jr. of Columbia, S.C. “Recently, I took 48 giant football cookies to the locker room after my nephew’s game. It was a huge hit,” he says. “And Max, my nephew, got the credit, ’cause I’m his uncle.”
9. Share a special word or phrase
When my husband was a young boy, his mother would always say, “See you in the morning” to him and his brother after she tucked them in at night. Now, I say that same phrase to our son every night. It always brings a smile – and warm thoughts of grandma, too.
10. Listen – distraction-free
“I think making time to really listen to your kids is the single most important thing you can do to communicate your love,” says Kelly. “No cell phones while they are in the car with you. And make time after work and school to sit down and talk with them. It makes all the difference in the world.” For young kids, get down on their level. There’s nothing more fun for little ones than sitting on the floor and playing trucks or tea party with mom or dad. The secret is in giving your child your full attention. No TV, phones or to-do lists allowed!
11. Add a little fun to your child’s lunchbox
“When I was young, my mom used to carve a simple face into the apple she placed in my lunchbox,” says Sarah Doyle Lacamoire of Isle of Islay, Scotland. “I know it probably sounds silly, but just the fact that she took the extra time to do that made me feel special – and gave me a good giggle.” To add a valentine’s twist, carve a heart on the side of a big red apple, complete with Cupid’s arrow.
12. End the day right
Top off your day with a special goodnight kiss designed just for your child, suggests Susan Newman, Ph.D., author of Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day. “Two pecks on the forehead, one on the nose and one on top of the head, for example, underscores how special your child is to you.”
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