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She’s never going to want to run ever again. I told myself this watching my then-10-year-old daughter run in her first elementary school track meet, lagging behind the faster runners, red-faced, and breathing heavily. She wasn’t last, but she certainly wasn’t first. My heart sank for her. As she (finally) crossed the finish line and I went to meet her, nothing could have made me guess what would happen next. 

The girl loved it. She went on and on about the strategy her coach told her to use, the fact that she had passed another runner (albeit the one that came in last place), and how she felt herself “kick it in” on the last leg. Well, I’ll be darned. 

Fast forward three years later. (Warning: total dad-brag about to happen…) Today I watched my daughter run in the second cross country meet of her 8th-grade year… as a member of the varsity high school team. She came in 8th place overall. And afterward, she went on and on about her strategy, passing the girl in front of her (actually, several girls), and “kicking it in” over the last hill. She’s found something she loves. 

It’s so amazing to see your kid discover and develop their strengths. And although I can’t take much of the credit (because let’s face it—I’m not about to run three miles in the hot August sun in the middle of a field), I’d like to think that my wife and I did something right to help her develop her love of running. 

Have you seen that spark in your child’s eyes when they’ve found something they’re strong in?

Whether it’s an external activity like running or painting, or an internal quality such as compassion for others, you can use some definite strategies to encourage your child’s strengths. 

Encourage experimentation.

Kids in that 8 to 12-year-old range are in a stage where they are naturally “trying on” pieces of themselves. They aren’t quite sure if they’re into competitive sports, artistic activities, problem-solving tasks, specific topics of study, or a combination of these! In our house, we’ve always had a philosophy of if it piques your interest, let’s just try it.” There were definitely activities that were off the table; neither of my daughters had any kind of an interest in softball or basketball, so we didn’t push it. But if there was any hint of I wonder what that would be like, we did what we could to find short-term opportunities to try it on for size. (We prompted our runner-daughter to attend a week-long cross country camp the summer after her 5th-grade year, where she fell in love with the sport, and the rest is *current* history!) 

Here’s another approach: a friend of mine has a rule with his family where each of his children is to be involved in one artistic activity and one physical activity. This is a brilliant idea to encourage your children to discover and build on those strengths. 

Throw them in the deep end of the pool.

After falling in love with cross country at summer camp, it was a no-brainer for my daughter to want to run on the middle school team the following year. My response to her: Okay, but if you’re going to commit, you’re going to commit. What are you going to do to prepare yourself for the upcoming season? The result: several days a week over the summer, she ran as far as she could while I biked beside her (Did I mention I don’t run??). 

When your child has found that thing they are interested in, encourage them to dive in headfirst and soak up every ounce of experience they can with it. Coach them and encourage them in experiencing both the joy as well as the gritty work that comes with their strengths. (Running is fun when the conditions are right, but you have to be willing to run in the rain and the cold if you want to get better.) Obviously, approach this with a strong dose of grace. But help them see the value in improving upon what they are passionate about. 

Ask lots of questions.

A surefire way to encourage your child in their strengths and interests is to show interest yourself. Assume the role of the complete novice and allow them to be the expert. There have been so many conversations about running simply sparked by my asking a “dumb” question. (So, when you’re in a race, are you allowed to elbow people? And off we go on a great discussion on cross country rules…) 

Don’t forget to ask questions like, “Are you sure you still enjoy this?” Just because a your child is good at something doesn’t mean they enjoy it or can’t get “burned out” on it. Sometimes parents try to live out their dreams through their children. Just because you were a great swimmer, and maybe your child is too, it doesn’t mean they share your passion for it. They might hate it. Ask questions to make sure your child isn’t participating in something because they know it makes YOU happy.

Help them find other sources of inspiration for their strengths, especially things to read.

Kids will naturally eat up any kind of extra bits of media and information on the strengths they are passionate about. Art, books, hiking magazines, cooking tutorial videos, photography blogs… all these are great resources to “pass along” to your child who wants to go waist-deep into their strengths. For her birthday a couple of years ago, I bought my daughter a subscription to a women’s running magazine. And now, I am receiving a constant education on the value of spiked running shoes, how to train for marathons, and what you should eat before a race (evidently chocolate cake doesn’t make the list)

Help them find a community that will encourage them in their strengths.

It’s one thing to encourage your kids from the home front to pursue and strengthen their interest. But your encouragement receives an extra boost when you help them find other kids—just like them—who are passionate about the same thing. And let’s face it: not every interest has a ready-made team waiting for them (like, say, cross country). But nowadays, if you look hard enough (like internet searches of what’s in your community), you can usually find a common interest group with just about any activity. And if you can’t, talk with your child about starting a group yourselves. There may be a huge number of kids ready to come out of the woodwork to share their passion for bead art, geocaching, or videocasting with others… just like them

Help them and encourage them to match their strengths to goals, projects, and experiences.

In his (excellent) book, Artificial Maturity, Tim Elmore says that directing kids’ strengths toward real-life ventures helps them form a clear sense of identity and prepares them for life as an adult. You can’t go wrong with that. And besides, giving your child a sense of mission with their strengths puts meaning behind their interests. 

For example (warning: another dad-brag is coming your way…), my younger daughter discovered an interest in videocasting. She formed her own YouTube channel, recorded herself hosting topics from craft projects to how to clean your room to fun family activities. Then she edits and puts the videos out there for family members and close friends to view. (I have had the distinct honor of guest-starring in a number of her productions.) 

Again, I can’t take all the credit, but we’ve tried to encourage her as best we can and help her think how she can use this interest to help other people.

As a new 6th-grader in middle school, she has built upon those strengths and has now transitioned to hosting her own podcast, using her school’s recording equipment to interview teachers in her school about their experiences as young people and making it available to the students. (Seriously, I’m totally humbled by my kids. At their age, I was content just reaching the next level of Pac-Man.)

One last thing about encouraging your child’s strengths…

At times I have done the above very well with my kids, and other times… not-so-well. But I have found that encouraging my kid’s strengths has actually afforded me opportunities to connect with them and have a deeper relationship with them. The conversations that have resulted have been invaluable. And I wouldn’t trade the experience of riding my bike (what felt like) hundreds of miles beside my oldest daughter running or hamming it up on video with my younger daughter for anything. And I’m pretty confident they won’t forget those times either. Value those times and soak it up. It’s amazing to see your kids grow.

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Does it seem like everyone has something to say about how you’re parenting?

Do you question whether or not you’re doing the right thing for your child?

Do you want assurance that you’re meeting your child’s needs?

Researchers and practitioners have sought for years to find what children need to thrive in a variety of ways—physically, mentally, psychologically, emotionally and behaviorally. The research is in. They might use a different word or two, but we have a good idea about what children need to thrive. Relationship is everything.

Dr. Mark Laaser and his wife, Debra Laaser, LMFT, have worked with individuals and couples for many years. Through their work, they found that in relationships, we all have desires in our hearts. Those desires begin in childhood and last throughout our lives. 

1. To be heard and understood.

Your child needs you to hear and listen to them, even when what they say is difficult to hear. If they don’t feel heard, they will either stop talking or begin to over-talk you.

2. To be affirmed.

Your child desires for you to recognize what they do. Whether for academics, arts, or athletics, you showing up means a great deal to your child. They may win or just participate, but your acknowledgment that they did a good job can make their little hearts happy. When they complete a task or chore, saying thank you (even if they don’t do it the way that you do it) is an additional way to notice their contribution to the family. 

3. To be blessed.

Your child desires to know that you love them unconditionally for who they are not for what they do or accomplish. No matter how they behave (temper tantrums), how successful they are in athletics or not, how well they do academically or not, your child needs to feel your love and support.

4. To be safe.

Your child desires to feel safe, free from extraordinary fear, worry, and anxiety. There are conditions that parents can’t control such as a global pandemic or natural disasters (tornado, hurricanes, fires). What you can do is ASSURE your child that you are right there with them. Being aware of your feelings will help you handle those of your child.

5. To be touched.

Your child needs and desires physical contact. As infants, children who don’t receive physical touch often get a diagnosis of “failure to thrive.” According to Dr. Virginia Satir, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. And we need twelve hugs a day for growth.” 

6. To be Chosen.

Your child desires to know that you want and cherish them as a member of the family. In my house, my sons often ask, “Who is your favorite child?” The truth is each one is my favorite child. Our family would not be the same if any of them were not a part of it. Likewise, your family would not be the same if any of your children were not a part of your family.

7. To be included.

Your child desires to know that as a member of your family, they matter, belong, and have significance. Find ways (age-appropriate) to include them in decisions (what’s for dinner, family outings). Not only is their presence necessary, but their contribution to the family ideals and expectations is mandatory.

Parents want the best for their children through experiences and exposure. There will be times that you miss the mark as a parent. Your child may not make every team or production they try out for. You may get angry and raise your voice. Remember that what your child needs to thrive is for you to be an engaged (not perfect) parent who is seeking to meet the needs and desires of your child’s heart. There are probably a few things that you’re already doing, but if you see one that you’re not, choose one to focus on this week. 

Other Lists Of What Children Need

Has your toddler ever had a meltdown or temper tantrum?

Does your child cry uncontrollably to get something they want?

Have you ever wished the floor would open up in the store and swallow you because of how your child was behaving?

If any of these things have happened to you, then you probably are the parent of a toddler who is in the middle of a tantrum. Inevitably, these behaviors are on full display in large public spaces like the line at the grocery store or in the middle of the aisle at a big box store. As a parent, you feel the weight of the stares and glares from the other customers and employees. Your heart rate rises. Your hands get sweaty. You may feel embarrassed or that you are the worst parent ever. All you want is for your child to please, please, please BEHAVE.

What do you do? How do you parent your toddler through a temper tantrum?

Here are a few strategies that can help you:

1. The best tantrum is the one that never happens.

Prepare your toddler before you go out. Remind them before you leave, that you aren’t buying them anything, that you have a few things to get, and incentivize their good behavior beforehand. (“If you behave, we’ll make some cookies when we get home,” or “I’ll read your favorite book to you,” or “We’ll watch some PBS Kids.”) This will help them to defer gratification and hopefully make your shopping easier.

2. Remain calm. 

This may be easier said than done. When your child is losing it, as a parent you have to remain calm. Often we contribute to the intensity of the tantrum by escalating it because of our feelings of anger and embarrassment. Now is not the time to be concerned about what those people around you are thinking. It doesn’t matter what they think about your parenting. It matters how you parent your child. Keep your focus on your child and not on a bunch of people that you may never see again. Remember,  you can handle this and that it is normal and natural for a toddler to have a temper tantrum. 

3. Assess the situation. (Create a mental game plan.)

Now that you have taken a couple of deep breaths and are calm, do a quick mental checklist: 

  • Are they hungry? 
  • Did they miss their naptime? 
  • Are they not feeling good? 
  • Did you make changes to your normal routine? 
  • Are YOU stressed and overwhelmed? 
  • Maybe there is no reason at all except they are toddlers

However, if you can pinpoint the triggering factor, such as your toddler being hungry, bringing or getting them a small snack can allow them to calm down at least until you finish this errand. If they are tired, it may be in your best interest to get them home as soon as possible. If they are angry because you said “no” to something they wanted—be the parent

4. Focus on your child.

With your game plan in mind, focus on your child. Find a quiet space in the store, if possible—if not, offer to go to the car to calm down. (Leave your cart with an employee and tell them you will hopefully be right back.) When you get to the car—look your child in the eye, speak softly and calmly, and empathize with them. (Ahh, you really are tired; I know, you are hungry.) Then give them directions. This may be the time to throw in an incentive. (When we go back to the store, if you behave, when we get home we’ll have a snack before naptime.) You are laying the groundwork for important child development pieces like learning to control their emotions, learning to defer gratification, and learning mom means business.

5. If you have a very sensitive child…

It may seem more difficult to deal with tantrums when you have a “sensitive child.” No matter the temperament of your child, it is fine to have appropriate behavioral expectations of them. It is important to remember that children respond differently to correction. For some, it only takes “that look”—others require more. The goal of discipline is to teach. A slight deviation from the normal routine could really send a sensitive child into orbit. Being keenly aware of your child’s temperament (and your own emotional state) is vital for effectively dealing with a tantrum.

You have made it through your toddler’s public tantrum.

Was it hard? Maybe. Will it happen again? Probably. I love the saying, “Once you have gone through something, you know how to go through something.” 

Become a student of your child. Now is the time to think about ways to prepare for the next toddler temper tantrum. Keep snacks in your bag. Either go alone or wait until after naptime. Go to the store when it’s not really crowded. 

Parenting is a HARD job, especially with toddlers. You may feel frustrated, anxious, distressed, positive, satisfied, and overwhelmed all in the SAME DAY, even on the SAME TRIP. There is no parenting handbook that has all the answers for every situation, contrary to what those judgy people in the store believe. As parents, we are not perfect, and neither are our kids.  Our children don’t need Perfect Parents. They need Present Parents. Parenting a toddler is just one stage in your parenting journey. All you can do is try to do your best to meet the needs of your children for where they are developmentally.

Constantly putting yourself down is of no benefit to anyone. Practice self-care. Be careful what you say to yourself because you will believe it. Make time for yourself. Take a bath. Go for a walk. Talk to friends. In the words of  flight attendants, “Put your mask on first, then help others.” We are so busy making sure everyone around us is okay, we often neglect to care for ourselves. This has a huge impact on our children—they can pick up on our stress and frustration. Be your best self so you can be at your best for your child, wherever and whenever.

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Do you want to increase the likelihood that your child grows up to make emotionally healthy decisions? 

Would you like to increase the likelihood that your child will perform well academically in school?

Do you want to increase the likelihood that your child will have healthy relationships?

I’m guessing your answer to each of those questions is yes. News flash. This doesn’t happen by getting little Johnny to walk by age 1, read by age 2, and play the piano by age 3. 

A secure relationship between you and your child is one of the most significant factors contributing to your child’s development.

Your child, even as a baby and a toddler, experiences and learns a thousand new things about their world every day. They are learning what to do when they get hurt, don’t get their way or get mistreated by someone. They’re also finding out how to handle it when they make mistakes and encounter something that’s too hard for them. 

Secure relationships help children develop emotionally.

The environment that parents provide for them is significant. It helps to determine whether they will have positive growth experiences or develop unhealthy emotional coping skills. Harvard researchers tell us, “The single most common factor for children and teens who develop the capacity to overcome serious hardship is having at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult.” 

The trust they have for you as a parent and for the relationship is vital for their development. 

Being available to listen, encourage and comfort them when they experience frustration and disappointment can help them learn healthy ways to cope with trauma and stress. When the positive and secure relationship of a parent is present in your child’s life, they are less likely to develop poor relationship skills and unhealthy emotional responses. Feeling secure gives them the ability to develop a true sense of self, develop emotionally, and cultivate strong relationships.

Secure relationships allow kids the freedom to be kids.

Establishing yourself as the parent who values relationship and sets and follows through on discipline, is the loving leader, and is in charge, is actually comforting for children. Children have the brain development of… you guessed it, children. When children don’t feel like their parents are in control, they struggle.

For example:

You tell your child to pick up their blocks and you leave the room. You come back in the room and they haven’t picked up their blocks. Then, you tell them, “Unfortunately, we will have to put the blocks away” because they didn’t do what you asked them to do. They then throw themselves on the floor and throw a temper tantrum. You respond by saying, “Okay, you can play with the blocks,” because you don’t want them to be upset with you. This creates confusion in the mind of the child as to who is actually leading or in charge. When parents do the parent “stuff” like set boundaries to keep kids safe and establish routines to help them grow and develop, then the security of the relationship allows kids the freedom to be kids.  

Secure relationships give kids a sense of belonging.

In addition to having a true sense of self, every child wants to know they belong. A secure relationship with their parent(s) reinforces that they belong to the family and that they can’t fail bad enough to change that fact. As researcher John Bowlby has shown, a secure relationship with the parent sets children up for healthier interactions with other children, better grades, and great self-confidence as they grow and explore the world.

Secure relationships give kids the confidence to try new things, explore, and make mistakes. 

Children make all kinds of mistakes. It’s how they learn. They try to pour their own cereal and milk and spill a full carton of milk on the floor. While you may be freaking out because money is tight and you really can’t afford to lose a gallon of milk on the floor, your child is doing exactly what they are supposed to do—try new things. However, what you do as a parent sends a message as to whether this relationship is safe and secure. If you scream and yell, and act like they committed an unforgivable act, then you may be sending the message that trying new things and making a mistake when you’re doing something new isn’t acceptable. 

You could also be sending the message that you’re only happy with your child when they “do right,” but “I don’t really like you when you make mistakes.” That doesn’t make a child feel like their relationship with you is secure. It can make your child feel like they must earn your love and approval.

A Different Approach

However, what if you came alongside your child after they’ve spilled the milk and recognized that they were simply testing their own capabilities? They are trying to learn and do new things, and since you know that, the approach is different. Simply teaching them how to carry out the task, setting boundaries so they understand authority and permission, and helping them clean up their mess in a calm manner sets the stage for your child to feel secure in their relationship with you. They learn that their mom or dad’s love and care for them is not dependent on being the perfect child.

That relational security gives them the confidence to try something else that they couldn’t do before without fear that if they make a mistake, they may lose their parent’s love. It provides them with an assurance that the next time they experience frustration, there is someone (the parent) who can help them overcome their emotions. They also begin to recognize the need for boundaries and permission to help them not end up in situations they aren’t prepared for.

We want our children to be willing to discover new things, and solve problems. We also want them to recognize and build positive relationships, and learn to deal with their emotions in a healthy way. Providing a secure relationship in the home is a great way to give your child the best opportunity to develop.

Other Related Blogs:

How do I make my child feel secure?

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We pull up to the little league baseball field where I’m about to have three different kids with three different practices on three different fields. There are only two parents. But before I can barely shift the van into park, my 11-year-old son darts out of the van, grabs his baseball equipment and sprints to his field. 

Why does this make me as a father smile every time it happens? It’s not because he’s a future major leaguer or that he is so happy to get away from us. It’s because he used to be an insecure kid, insecure about his baseball skills.  He was unsure of himself, his ability to make friends on the team, and didn’t always handle the disappointment of striking out or misplaying a ball very well.

A child that feels secure feels loved and free to make decisions, form relationships, and solve problems. They also react well to emotional stress. How do you help your child to feel secure?

Be the Parent

As a parent, you are in charge—you are the authority. You set the structure and the rules in your home. You also demonstrate what love and relationship look like, but you don’t look for your child to validate you as a person or as a parent. Children feel more secure when they and the people in their lives have clear roles. When their parent is acting out the responsibilities of a parent, there’s clarity and order in your child’s life. 

Set Limits and Boundaries

I have seven kids and they all seem to read from the same book that tells them to test the limits. Children are hard-wired to find out how far their parents will allow them to go. When a child doesn’t have any limits or boundaries, it may seem as though they are getting what they want. The opposite is the case. 

Family experts agree that children feel safer when limits and boundaries are established and knowing that there are consequences for going beyond the boundaries. Your child learns what behavior is expected of them. A child who knows what to expect is better able to enter in and out of relationships with non-family members because they’ve learned to recognize what is appropriate.

Routines and Consistency

Predictability is great for children. This may come in the form of regular morning, evening, and bedtime routines. This also may be through family mealtime or family rituals. Your children will experience lots of change in the world they live in. Being able to look to the home for consistency provides security in what can be a chaotic world. Click here for great information on establishing routines and structure in the home.

Time and Affection

Laughing, playing, being silly, hugging, saying “I love you,” and just hanging out are key to helping your child feel secure. This helps your child know that they belong and have a place in this world because they have a place in their family. It reinforces that they are loved, that they have value, and that they are worth spending time with. Click here for ways to show your child affection.

Availability

My son has experienced a range of emotions playing baseball. There are times where he and a teammate didn’t get along and other times he has been frustrated because he was not hitting the ball well. We’ve talked. Sometimes, I’ve just listened. We’ve discussed solutions. But more importantly, as parents, we have learned to be available to help and support, not necessarily solve the problem. One of my favorite questions is, “What do you think is best and why?” The freedom to solve his own problems builds self-confidence. 

We always aim to be available to help him think through the issues he encounters. And sometimes he makes the wrong decision—which gives us the opportunity to help him learn and grow. Your children will experience failure, stress, and a host of other emotions. You want them to feel safe to experience life and have the confidence to respond in a positive and healthy way. 

Give Children Responsibilities

Children who contribute to the daily life of the family learn that they have something to give. The Center for Parenting Education says that children who have family responsibilities gain a sense of pride from knowing that they are capable of contributing to their environment. My 4-year-old has the responsibility of making sure everyone has silverware for each meal. It doesn’t have to be much and it can grow over time. My 11 and 13-year-olds are responsible for washing the dishes. They know that without silverware or clean dishes, the family doesn’t eat. They are contributing to the life of our family. 

Know When to Seek Professional Help

If your child continually expresses an inability to feel safe and it is impacting their ability to cope,  then it may be time to seek professional help. As a parent, sometimes we need the assistance of an objective professional to help us tweak our parenting to meet the individual needs of our children. It certainly is not a sign of failure to ask for help. Parenting to your child’s uniqueness can be challenging for sure. 

As a parent, you can provide your child with a safe and stable environment to help them feel secure. Your child picks up on the cues you send based on how you respond to the stress of a pandemic like COVID-19 or the anger you may feel when someone you love is mistreated. Working to feel secure as a parent will only help you as you aim to help your child feel secure.

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The last couple of weeks have found us having more conversations with our 7-year-old about what being diversity aware means. We have discussed what has happened in our nation over the last few months as well as what is currently happening in our city and state. This was not our first conversation about diversity. It has been an ongoing theme in our household since he was born. We have the same conversations with our 4-year-old daughter as well. 

Diversity is important to us as we are a multicultural family. But the conversations over the last couple of weeks have taken a different tone, a more urgent tone. We have had some deeper conversations about recognizing and appreciating diversity. Our language has changed, too. More clarity has entered the conversation to ensure that our son understands what words like racism, diversity, and prejudice mean. 

So how can we help our children become more aware of the diversity around them? We, as parents, play an invaluable role in teaching our children how to respect and appreciate differences. Here are some of the ways we have taught diversity to our kids.

1. Acknowledge Differences

We are all unique. We represent different cultures and ethnicities. There is beauty in our differences and we should celebrate them. This makes the world a more interesting place, it would be kind of boring if we all were just alike. One thing you can always count on with kids is that they will ask questions. Sometimes they ask the hard questions. When our children ask why someone has a different color skin, different hair, or speaks a different language, we need to take the opportunity to discuss the visible differences that we have. Reinforce that regardless of the color of one’s skin or the language they speak, every person has equal value.

2. Model Diversity

If we want to teach our kids about diversity, we need to make sure our circle of friends is diverse. Diversity comes in many forms—ethnicity, culture, and socioeconomic are just a few examples. I’ll never forget the last Christmas we lived in South Florida. My son was two and we had a group of friends over to celebrate. These were people we worked with and did life with. The group makeup was myself, my Latin wife, a Jamaican, a Haitian, a black friend from Florida, and our friends who are white. This was a unique blend of cultures and these were all people that our son had the opportunity to spend time with during his first two years of life. I share this to say that we need to surround ourselves with diversity so our kids see how important it really is.

3. Introduce Diversity

One of my favorite books to read to my daughter is Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Mendez. Why? Because this book is a conversation between a young girl and her grandpa about why she looks different than her friends. Children’s books offer a vast array of diversity. Take a look at what you have in your child’s library and see if there are books that represent people of different races and cultures. You can find some ideas by clicking here. Another fun way to learn more about diversity is to attend culture festivals in your area. These are fun, interactive events that introduce a variety of cultures… and great food is a bonus. Also, look at the children’s movies that you watch with your kids. Point out the differences in the ethnicities of the characters and have a conversation about who those characters represent. 

4. Teach Empathy

What does it mean to have empathy? It means that we can sense and understand the feelings of others and share in those feelings. Many of us have heard the saying “Don’t judge a person until you walk a mile in their shoes.” We may not be able to fully identify with someone else’s reality, but we can choose to share their feelings. Jimmy Rollins explains it this way: “Do we have the capacity to love someone else’s reality that is not our own?” As parents, we can have conversations with our children to help them understand what it means to identify with the feelings of another and walk alongside them. We can help our children identify their own feelings and label those emotions. This will give them the tools to have a conversation about the emotions of others and how we can walk alongside someone who is different than us.

5. Encourage Conversation

Helping your child become diversity aware is not a one-time discussion. This is an ongoing conversation that will last for years. Take every opportunity to help your child continually learn about diversity. Encourage them to ask questions as well. Kids are curious—they want to constantly know more. I can attest that my kids never stop asking questions. We can be intentional about creating an environment that promotes curiosity and learning. 

6. Take A Stand

If we have done all these things, then we need to help our kids understand when and how to take a stand. If my son has a schoolmate who is bullied because of their race or culture, we have taught him to take a stand for them. Sometimes taking a stand is as simple as including people of different ethnicities. Ask your child what their friend group looks like. Look for ways that they can include people who look different than them into their group. Taking a stand can be as simple as showing kindness, compassion, and love. And when your child does take a stand, affirm and celebrate them. This will encourage them to continue.

Helping your child become diversity aware is a marathon, not a sprint. Stay in the race and help our kids continue to change the world.

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Short answer: Show affection as much as you can. 

Often, we use the words “affection” and “love” interchangeably. While understandable, and they can certainly overlap, I’m going to make a distinction between love and affection. Affection is adoration, fondness, liking someone. So our question would change to: 

How much should I show my child that I adore them, I am fond of them and that I like them? 

See the difference that makes?

Or let me put it this way—a baby doesn’t understand the self-sacrificial love that you have for them deep in your heart, but just holding them and cuddling demonstrates affection. And they pick up on it. And it has long-term developmental consequences.

Or how about this? How would a teen receive an “I love you” if there was never any affection shown toward them? Those words would be meaningless.

Showing your child affection communicates security, belonging, acceptance, and that they are liked.

Sometimes as parents we stumble over the simplicity and the importance of showing affection. I hope my kids know and trust that I love them, but I also hope they know that I really like and enjoy them, too.

I have five kids. As babies, they were all held, snuggled, and rocked. There is no better feeling in the world than having one of my little babies asleep on my chest. My youngest is now 14. He was my only “snuggly” little one. 

Wow. Things are a lot different now. Showing affection evolves at different ages and stages as our kids grow up. My 14-year-old son doesn’t want to be “snuggled” and he definitely isn’t going to fall asleep on my chest. (Even hugs, if his friends are around, are kinda iffy.) But he appreciates a pat on the back after he mowed the yard or a hand on his shoulder if we are waiting in line. He really loves hearing that I noticed the heel-kick he did in a soccer game.

Each of my five children is a unique individual. Even when they were little, each had their own personality. One of the first parenting lessons I learned was that what one child needed in terms of affection from me was different from another child. I also learned that the ways I showed affection to them that seemed meaningful to me and came naturally to me did not necessarily translate into affection from my kids’ point of view, so I had to learn what they needed.

I had to spend time with each of them and learn about their individual hearts.

Some of the things I learned over time that have helped me figure out the best ways to express affection to my kids are:

Pay close attention to what they ask of you.

This can provide insights into how they receive affection. Do they ask:

  • You to come and play with them? Quality Time.
  • If you think the picture they drew is pretty? Affirmation.
  • If you can help with their hair? Touch.

Pay close attention to how they express affection to you.

This also provides insight into their heart and what means affection to them. Do they:

  • Want to sit in your lap and give you hugs?
  • Like to make things for you like drawing you a picture or bring you things like a dandelion? 
  • Tell you they like hanging out with you while you work on the car? 

★  Spend Time With Them.

  • Learn their “affection language.” When my daughter was about 5, I took her to a movie and put my arm on the back of her seat. She immediately asked me to move my arm. Point noted!
  • Let them set the agenda for what you do together. Get on the floor and play with their toys together. Watch them play video games. If you are present and engaged, you are saying you like them and like spending time with them. (Put your phone away.)
  • Take them with you to run errands or hang out with you while you’re working on stuff. Show that you just enjoy their company. Lots of bonding happens organically just being together.
  • Notice and express gratitude for the little things they do. Don’t reserve praise for big things. “Thanks for telling me a little about your day.” “I appreciate you helping bring the groceries in.” This communicates that you notice and like them.

Spend time with your child and become a student of their heart. Tell them that you love them but also tell them that you like them, you enjoy spending time with them, how proud you are of them, and that you believe in them. This all translates to affection to your child.

Many kids today don’t think their parents even like them, let alone love them. You are communicating how you feel about your kids all the time. And they are watching.

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Of course my child knows I love them!” But do they? Really? To be clear, I’m not questioning whether you love your child; I’m questioning whether your child knows that you love them. Do they know how broad, wide, and deep your love is for them? There’s more to your child feeling loved than saying, “I love you! Goodnight!” every night.

Google Autocomplete can be illuminating. For those unfamiliar with it, as you begin typing a search into Google, Google begins to finish it for you with the most popular searches put into its search engine. So, typing, “How do I get my parents to” will autocomplete with the most popular searches that begin with the same phrase. This particular example is as heartbreaking as it is illuminating. 

The number one autocomplete is: How do I get my parents to love me?

★ What would lead kids, tweens, and teens to google ways to get their parents to love them? Is there a disconnect somewhere? Are we overestimating how much affection our kids feel? Are we not communicating love in ways that resonate with our kids? Some kids don’t even think their parents like them, let alone love them. Even if you feel confident that your child knows they are loved, there’s always room to learn more ways to deepen it.

Here’s How To Make Sure Your Child Knows You Love Them

1. Understand Your Child’s Heart

  • Dr. Gary Chapman wrote a great book, The Five Love Languages of Children, that suggests we all communicate and receive love uniquely. Sometimes the way we communicate love doesn’t match up with how our kids “hear” love and we love right past them. We might be providing tons of loving, affirming words, but our child might really feel loved the most when we spend quality time with them. His website is really helpful and has great resources!
  • What do they ask of you? This can provide insights into how they receive affection. 
    • Do they ask you to come and play with them? (Love = Quality Time.) 
    • Do they ask if you think the picture they drew is pretty or if you are proud of their report card? (Love = Affirming Words.) 
    • Do they ask for help with homework or their hair? (Love = Helping Them.)
  • How do they express love and affection to you? This also provides insight into their heart and what says, “I love you” to them. 
    • Do they want to sit in your lap and give you hugs? (Love = Physical Connection.) 
    • Do they like to make things for you like drawing you a picture or bring you things like a dandelion? (Love = Gifts, Tokens of Affection.) 

2. Spend Time With Them.

  • We can kid ourselves by saying things like, “I don’t spend a lot of time with my kids, but when I do, I make it count.” It’s great to “make it count” (quality time) but our kids need “a lot” of time, too (quantity time). There really is no substitute. Kids spell “love,” T – I – M – E. 
  • Be intentional. Routines, rituals, and structure provide predictability and ultimately help kids feel safe. When children feel safe, they feel loved and can thrive. Regular parent/child dates. Dinner together as a family. Friday Night Game Nights. Appropriate  and consistent expectations communicate, “I love you and care about your wellbeing.” 

Look for and even plan for informal time together. Get on the floor and play with their toys with them. Watch them play video games. Take them with you to run errands or hang out with you while you’re working on the car. Lots of bonding happens organically just being together.

3. Expand The Bandwidth Of Your Communication

  • Your words are powerful. Not just what you say but how you say it. Remember, your body isn’t on mute. An angry “Because I said so!” could be a calm “Here’s why this is important…” Don’t underestimate the power of your words in forming your child’s perception of how you feel about them
  • Listen. Really listen. So many kids say their parents talk at them, not with them. You can’t make your child talk to you, but you can be present and create an atmosphere and relational environment where talking is much more likely to take place. Don’t be quick to jump in with a judgment or lecture.
  • Say, “I love you.” Not just at bedtime, but say it at times when they don’t expect to hear it—when they’ve done something wrong and had to be corrected, when they are down on themselves and don’t feel lovable, random times like car rides or when they are just walking across the room. It is important that children understand that there is nothing that they can do to make you love them more or love them less.
    • Other phrases that say “I love you” without saying “I love you.”
    • I believe in you.
    • I’m proud of you.
    • I’m always here for you.
    • I was wrong. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.

Whether you know it or not, you are always sending messages revealing how you feel about your kids—and they are paying attention. Think about that for a second. If you think it’s possible that your children might wonder how much you love them, you don’t have to let them wonder. Be intentional and talk with them about it. With loving your kids, make sure it’s a show AND tell.

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Let me set the scene for you. I’m working from home because of COVID-19 and sitting in quarantine at my computer trying to crank out a report and meet a deadline in an hour. 

The following sequence of events happens:

  • My 9-year-old son goes running down the hall and slides on the floor into the door as if he were sliding into 2nd base. (I guess he misses baseball.)
  • I calmly stand up and say, “Are you crazy? Don’t do that anymore.” (50– Nice and cool.)
  • Next, my 11-year-old son breaks a glass bowl in the kitchen.
  • I, truly irritated, go to the kitchen to investigate and help clean up the mess. (100– Hot, but bearable.)
  • Then my 2-year-old is yelling at my 4-year-old, “Let me have it. It’s mine. Let me have it!” as tears are flowing down his face. Of course, he gets louder and louder each time.
  • I put my referee suit on and very frustratingly resolve the issue. (150– Feels like I’m in the desert with no water.)
  • And then my 13-year-old daughter innocently enough walks in and asks me to set up Zoom on the iPad so she can get on a video with her friends.
  • And now, I’m ready to lose it. My very first thought, (picture blood vessels bursting out of my forehead, “Leave me the -beep- alone!(212– Water’s boiling point.)

I’ve gone from calm, to irritated, to frustrated, to downright angry because no one will let me get my work done. Don’t they know the pressures that we are under right now?! Don’t they know that if I don’t get these reports completed, I could be the next one to be laid off or have his salary reduced?!

There are 2 distinct doors to choose at this moment: 

  • Behind Door #1: Blow up and let my 13-year-old and all the other kids have it. Check out the blog, How Your Emotions Affect Your Child to learn more about what else is potentially behind door #1.
  • Behind Door #2: Take a timeout.

The timeout is an extremely useful tool that has helped me with my own children. It is so important because when I reached the boiling point, my body had literally undergone a chemical transformation as adrenaline and cortisol was now rushing to my defense. I was not capable of thinking rationally because my brain was out of balance at that moment.

The timeout becomes vital to provide an opportunity to literally calm your nerves. It can be made to be real dramatic which helps to get the focus onto the issue and off the person. 

Some creative ways to take a timeout and not blow up on your kids.

Throw a flag.

(Stole this one from the NFL) When a team commits a foul. One referee throws a flag. Then all the referees huddle to discuss the foul and make sure there’s agreement on the consequences (e.g. 15 yard penalty). Play doesn’t resume until the foul was acknowledged by the referee and the consequence was administered. And then it’s on to the next play. (The referees are always calm, direct and clear when they discuss the foul that was committed and the penalty.)  If one of them has committed a foul that’s about to cause you to blow up on your kids, have a makeshift flag (i.e., bandana, handkerchief, napkin, old rag) and throw it to the spot of the foul. And if your spouse is available, discuss the foul with them. Sometimes the referee picks up the flag and says that no foul was committed. Sometimes your kids didn’t do anything wrong, the stress of life just got to you. Don’t be too proud to pick up your flag and say no foul was committed.

Hit the Pause Button.

(Thank Hal Runkel, marriage and family therapist and author of ScreamFree Parenting for this one.) When we pause, everything freezes. Time stops. We don’t yet act on the next thought that comes to mind. We’re giving ourselves time for the adrenaline to settle down. Hal Runkel says, “Kids don’t want cool parents. They want parents that keep their cool.” Hitting the pause button helps you keep your cool. Make your pause button noisy. It can be a buzzer like the one that comes with board games like Taboo or a little wheezy toy. This draws attention to the fact that there is an issue that makes me want to explode and we need to deal. These are drastic times which call for drastic measures. Let your drastic measure be hitting the pause button.

Set a 90-second timer.

Use your phone, microwave timer, watch, or just count. Did you know that we only stay mad (chemically) for 90 seconds? According to Jill Bolte Taylor, brain researcher and author of A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey, anger triggers a chemical reaction within the brain that lasts for 90 seconds. After that, we either turn our attention elsewhere or replay the story and reignite the anger.  You’re about to lose your mind at the expense of your kids. You can often sense when that 90-second count starts. Stop, take a deep breath and set a timer. 

Simply call a timeout.

Form a “T” with your hands and say, “Timeout.” Doesn’t get more straightforward than that.

If you start to blow up on your kids or even get a few moments into your blow-up and then catch yourself and recognize the need for a timeout (this happens to me a lot), that’s ok. All isn’t lost.

Take a timeout the moment you recognize you need it. Take it from my experience; don’t start to blow up on your kids, realize that you’re blowing up, know that you should take a timeout, but since you’ve already started, choose to keep blowing up. Don’t do that!

If you do, you’re essentially saying, “I know that I’m not thinking rationally, that my adrenaline has thrown off my thought process, and that I’m in the middle of reacting, but I’m going to stay on that path anyway.” Pride or stubbornness should not get in the way of a timeout.

The best time to come up with a plan is before you need it.

Have an age-appropriate conversation with your kids. Discuss the timeout, its purpose and implementation. Then use it

Not only are you protecting your children and yourself, you’re also modeling self-control and teaching them how to regulate their emotions. And in the process, you’ve put yourself in a better position to get the results you really want: a family that is considerate, loving and respectful of one another. That beats fewer broken dishes any day.

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School is out! Many of us are working from home and now we are homeschool teachers. But my “students” want to eat all the time! They think the kitchen is a 24/7 restaurant… and they don’t tip! Any other parents struggling with this? If they keep going at this rate then we’ll be out of food in a couple of days. So what do we do?

Enter the superhero wife! My wife is a rockstar. Yesterday she sat down and made a plan to save our food and get the kids to be a bigger part of household chores. Don’t get me wrong, our kids contribute, but they are 7 and 4 so their contribution around the house is limited to what they can do. During this time when we are all home, things just have to look different and that’s okay. 

So this is what we came up with. We made a list of chores that our kids can do around the house like making their bed, sweeping rooms, unloading the dishwasher, reading for 30 minutes (outside of their school reading), exercising (again, outside of school exercise), and so on. Each item on this list will earn them money… no, not real money! My son has some fake money to learn to count with. 

Then we made a list of snacks and food items that they love to eat. We attached prices to these items and portioned them out. The healthier the food, the cheaper the price. Oranges are $2, whereas candy is $80. And you know what? The kids love this idea! They are looking for ways to earn money so they can save up for the sweet stuff.

To keep with their regular schedules, the kids have their normal breakfast, lunch, mid-afternoon snack, and dinner, but if they want to eat between these times then they have to do chores to earn money to buy more food. This is helping us keep a routine similar to their normal school schedule which helps keep their sanity and ours.

These times are different and how we handle them may look different than normal. Get creative and make your kids part of the process. Let them speak into what you all are doing in the house. You’re a family and you’re in this together. This time may be stressful but we have an opportunity to make great memories! 


*For more parenting resources, including COVID-19 specific resources, go to Firstthings.org.

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