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That little ball of energy you call your toddler is so cute when they’re little. The mess on their face after eating spaghetti is adorable. The way they want to cuddle with you right after you’ve disciplined them just melts your heart. During these early years, you can lay a firm foundation for having a strong relationship with your child for years to come. Here are just a few fun and easy things you can do to help your child feel safe, happy, and secure with you—the love of their life.

1. Shower With Love.

Sounds like it could be exhausting. It’s not. My 2-year-old loves to stand on my feet as we walk from his room to the dinner table. My 4-year-old loves for me to blow real loud kisses on his cheek. Harvard researcher and founder of The Basics, Ronald Ferguson says the simplest way to show love to your child is through simple acts of affection. Be free and fun with your affection toward both your boys and your girls. Sing to your child in your loudest, most out-of-tune voice declaring your love for her. They’ll know you not only love them, but you like them. After all, it’s difficult to have a strong relationship with someone who you’re not sure likes you. 

2. Play, Play, Play. 

You don’t have to play all day. Stephanie M. Wagner, Ph.D., Clinical Assistant Professor in the NYU Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry suggests, “Spending a few minutes in a special time playing with your young child will help both of you feel good about each other.” Regularly spending some time in free, exciting, adventurous play can do the trick. They’re toddlers, so keep it simple. Throw, roll, or kick soft balls. Build stuff using blocks, couch cushions, boxes, or whatever’s handy. Pull out the washable paint and use paintbrushes or just use your hands to create a masterpiece. Play hide and seek. You’re showing them that having fun is a good thing. You’re satisfying their curiosity and you’re helping them to associate laughter, smiles, and fun with the parent/child relationship

3. Make Adventures Through Stories.

Reading and telling stories creates bonds and builds imagination. When storytelling with your toddler, sometimes use books with words, other times, pictures are plenty. Use your imagination to tell a story based on the pictures. And other times, no book is needed, sit them on your lap and make up a story. Have them guess what’s going to happen next. The places you’ll go together on the imagination train will have the two of you seated together on memory lane forever. It’s a great way to end the day or make dinner time with your toddler fly by. 

4. Create Family Traditions.

A tradition can simply be something your family does regularly. Taco Tuesdays. Friday night movie night. Saturday morning crazy breakfast. I mean fun time. Sunday trip to Grandma’s. October pumpkin patch visits. First day of summer water bash. Children like the consistency and predictability parents and traditions provide. Traditions will help your child feel a sense of belonging to the family unit as they look forward to the various customs you observe in your home. The holidays are good for traditions. However, the most memorable traditions are often ones you create as a family.

5. Make Music. Dance To The Music.

Children love to sing and for you to sing to them. ABCs. Nursery Rhymes. Age-appropriate songs on your playlist. And of course, songs you make up. Sing and dance in the bathtub, in the kitchen, while getting dressed, doing their hair, and while driving them around town. Eventually, you’ll hear your child singing after you lay them down to sleep, while they’re playing with toys, and funny enough, while they are handling their business in the bathroom. They’ll be using those vocal cords to fill the house with a joyful noise.

6. Talk On Their Level.

Toddlers can have some really fascinating thoughts and conversations about the world around them. Just remember they have the mind of a toddler and not an adult. Strong relationships generally have strong communication. Ask them questions about the cartoon they’re watching, the games they’re playing, the visits to family and friends’ homes, and the books you read together. While in the grocery store get their thoughts on food to buy. Ask them to point out their favorite colors to you in the store. For a toddler, talking is a new and fun addition to their life. By asking them questions and listening to what they have to say, you’re teaching them their thoughts and feelings matter. That may pay dividends as they progress through adolescence.

Making memories, creating bonds, having fun, and creating a safe and secure environment will help your child see you as the trusted, loving parent they can depend on. You’ll be cultivating many of the necessary skills for strong relationships including communication, friendliness, and dependability. Incorporating these six things into the natural flow of your life will pay dividends for years to come—for you and your child.

“QUIT HITTING YOUR BROTHER!!!”

“DIDN’T I TELL YOU TO PICK UP YOUR TOYS???”

“I’M NOT GOING TO TELL YOU AGAIN. YOU CAN’T HAVE ANY MORE COOKIES!!!”

“STOP WHINING!!!”

“FOR THE 1,000TH TIME, NO, YOU CAN’T ___________(fill in the blank).”

And then they ask for the 1,001st time and you totally lose it. I’ve lost it. More than once. More than twice. Let’s be honest, several times. 

Every parent has been there

At some point, I decided I can’t keep losing it. I can’t keep yelling at my kids when they fail to meet my expectations or they simply don’t do what I’ve told them to do. I can’t continue to scream at them to get them to listen to me, and I can’t frighten them into respecting my role as their parent

Research shows that yelling at your kids out of anger or frustration can damage them emotionally. Researchers also found that adolescents who had experienced harsh verbal discipline suffered from increased levels of depressive symptoms, and were more likely to demonstrate behavioral problems such as vandalism or antisocial and aggressive behavior. I don’t want to yell at my kids, but sometimes there seems to be no other way to get their attention.

How do you actually stop yelling at your kids?

1. Allow the consequences to do your screaming for you.

One of the best parenting tips I received early in my parenting journey was that you train your kids when you’re serious. If you never yell until the 3rd time you’ve said something, then your kids learn that their parent isn’t serious until they’ve said it 3 times. Of course by the third time, you’re frustrated. The focus is now on your yelling and not on the issue. 

Practice telling your children one time, make certain they heard you and then give them consequences after the first time. No yelling required.

Example: “Look little Johnny, please pick up your toys.” Get assurance that he heard you.

If a couple of minutes later, Johnny hasn’t picked up his toys, proceed like this. Without yelling, but in your normal conversational tone say, “Johnny, you didn’t pick up your toys like you were told. I’m now taking your toys for the rest of the day.” 

Johnny’s learning that you’re serious when you say it once, not the 3rd time. Johnny may scream, Johnny may cry, Johnny may throw a fit. But Johnny isn’t used to you being serious the first time. Johnny will become trained to hear you without the yelling. And the focus is on the act, not how upset you are.

2. Know Your Triggers.

What causes you to go off the deep end? We all have triggers.

  • Do you obsess over the cleanliness of your house?
  • Do you absolutely hate to be late?
  • Are you fearful about how your kids will represent the family in public?
  • Do you hate having interruptions?
  • Does disrespect make your blood boil?

Your children probably do some things that you don’t like that don’t bother you much at all, while others set you off very quickly. Name those things that set you off so you can prepare to respond rationally when they push your buttons.

3. Apologize.

If you’ve yelled and violated your no-screaming clause, then be proactive and apologize to your children. You don’t need to apologize for the consequences, just for yelling and expressing your anger in a way that is not loving. 

After you’ve sincerely apologized a few times to your kids, then it’s amazing how you begin to become more conscious of your actions the next time they frustrate you. A few apologies shouldn’t cause you to give up hope. Let it be quite the opposite. It shows your children you’re human, and that you’re actively trying to improve as a person and parent as well. Who wouldn’t want their child to learn that lesson for themselves? They too may be a parent one day. They’ll value the apologies as much, if not more than, they valued the discipline. 

☆ You’re also much more likely to get a kid who genuinely tries to do the right thing.

4. Take a Timeout.

Yes, it is hard to take a timeout in the heat of the moment. But the alternative is apologizing again or giving up. Your kids are too important to give up on and even if I’m willing to say “I’m sorry,” I’d rather not need to. The key to the timeout is to jump on it the minute you feel your button being pushed. 

Nothing is lost when you take 10 minutes to calm down. You haven’t lost any power as a parent. You haven’t lost the opportunity to teach a lesson or the chance to effectively discipline. Generally, nothing bad can come from taking a moment to calm down and think through the issue and consider what is the best way to get the outcome you desire.

5. Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask.

When you’re sleep-deprived, lacking energy, and stressed, you’re more likely to get irritated and it becomes more difficult to respond to your kids in a loving way. Finding time to get good sleep, have some quiet time, spend time with friends, or snuggle up with your sweetie can be difficult. Talking with your family, friends, and loved ones about helping you to get some alone time is vital.

While practicing good self-care does not guarantee that your kids will never push your buttons, it can help you be in a better mindset to respond in a positive way to help your relationship with your child grow. Taking care of yourself will help you be the best parent to your child.

Remember, kids will be kids.

It’s easy to forget that your brain has developed its sense of judgment, problem solving, and basic understanding of right and wrong. Sometimes we yell at our kids simply because they’re not adults yet. You see the dangers of the toys on the floor. They don’t. You understand the value of respecting your siblings. They don’t. 

Yelling at them says that you’re mad at them for the given behavior. Calmly teaching, training, and disciplining them says you love them. The message we want to deliver to our children is that we love them, and that message should never be confused with anything else. They may not hear that when you’re taking away a privilege, putting them in timeout or whatever loving consequence you enforce, but it’s a lesson they will grow to love and respect as their brains develop the judgment, problem solving, and basic understanding of right and wrong that you already have. Let’s not confuse any of that with yelling. 

Let’s save the yelling for the real, physical danger that calls for drastic, immediate action.

I woke up late because I forgot to set my alarm, so I hurried to the shower and got dressed. Then I rushed to my son’s room to get him up and ready for the day. On my way to the room, I’m  greeted by a BIG smile and my son saying, “MOMMY, look! I helped you. I got dressed and ‘made’ my breakfast.” He was dressed like a bag of skittles. He had on a purple shirt, lime green shorts, red socks and his blue shoes. Breakfast consisted of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a glass of milk. Actually, only half of the peanut butter and jelly made it to the bread. The other was spread on the table, and none of the milk made the glass. It was in a puddle in the middle of the kitchen. 

I was experiencing a variety of emotions including feeling stressed, bothered, frustrated and angry.

My son watched what was going on on my face and waited for my response. What could I say or do? I could yell out of frustration and anger. Or say, “YOU made such a MESS! I don’t have time to clean this up. We are GONNA be late! What are you WEARING?” Or,  I could laugh, open my arms, and say, “OMG! Thank you for helping Mommy this morning. I was running behind. I appreciate you dressing yourself and eating your breakfast.”

No matter the response I chose, one thing is for sure: my response will have an impact on my child.

Here’s 3 ways your emotions can affect your child:

1. The way you behave when you experience an emotion teaches your child about that emotion and how to respond to it.

Emotions are not good or bad; it’s what you do with the emotion that will be either positive or negative. Your child needs to see you express a variety of emotions from anger, sadness, stress, anxiety, joy, elation, frustration, disappointment, pride, boredom, tired, scared, and nervous.  

2. Your child is watching to see what you do or how you react to a given situation.

There may be times when you struggle with a work assignment, and you feel frustrated and annoyed. Saying to your child, “Mommy had a HARD DAY at work and I need you to complete your homework or chores the first time that I ask you.” You are modeling for your child that having a bad part of the day doesn’t have to ruin the whole day. 

3. Children recognize fake and faux emotions.

If you’re actually sad, but try to fake happiness for the sake of your child, you’re doing them a disservice. Because your child can see that you’re sad, they may actually believe that it is because of them you are SAD. As you experience emotions, have an age-appropriate conversation with them. You are teaching them how to deal with emotions which is a skill that has long-lasting effects.

If you have younger children, they are not immune to the effect of your emotions. They are often unable to verbalize their negative feelings so they display them by acting out. They may revert to a younger stage like sucking their thumb or having bathroom accidents. You may also notice them not wanting you out of their sight or being extremely weepy. 

As a child, you may have learned lessons from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

These are a few poignant words he has to say about feelings. “There’s no ‘should’ or ‘should not’ when it comes to having feelings. They’re part of who we are and their origins are beyond our control. When we can believe that, we may find it easier to make constructive choices about what to do with those feelings.” 

As a parent, you have the opportunity to teach your children that having a variety of emotions is normal and natural. How you either react or respond is the lesson they learn. Because your child has been watching you over time, it may be a shock how accurate they are in interpreting your emotions. Whether you are happy, excited, angry, or frustrated, your child is aware.  Your increased awareness of that fact helps to create a calm, peaceful and stress free environment for them to grow and develop.

Image from Pexels.com

Does it feel like you’re at war with the clock? Like you don’t have enough time to do all the things on your to-do list? Struggle with finding time for yourself? Feel disconnected from your kids?

If you answer any of these questions with a “yes,” welcome to parenthood! Being a parent is one of the most difficult, yet rewarding jobs. You have so many things on your to-do list. Often, we are spouses, employees, caregivers, dietitians, Uber drivers, and teachers for our children “going” to school digitally. With so much on our plate, we become overwhelmed and stressed. This easily can turn into not being really present. We feel disconnected from our children, ourselves, and from our lives.

How do you reconnect and become a more present and “in the moment” parent with your kids?

1. Put down your phone.

It’s so easy for us to be engrossed in our technology (i.e., social media). When you do, it’s easy to see other people’s photos, videos, homes, and compare them to yours. You may ask yourself: “Why doesn’t my house look like theirs? Why doesn’t my family look this happy? What am I doing wrong?” 

The average adult spends 11 hours per day in front of some type of screen while they check their phone every 10 minutes. When you put down your phone, it allows your attention and focus to be placed on what is important to you (your children). It allows you to prioritize time with your children, your family, your spouse, and even yourself. I encourage you to take an honest look at how much time you spend on social media (IG, FB, Pinterest, etc.). Once you have that amount of time calculated, invest that time in doing something that brings value to your life. 

2. Be intentional in spending quality time with your child. 

Whether it is when they wake up or during your bedtime routine, create space for intentional and focused time with your child. Quality time doesn’t have to be a big planned activity. It’s really the little sweet moments that matter like telling your child you love them, placing a note in their lunch box, playing with them, or reading to them. As they grow, allow them to read to you, have a snack together, tell silly jokes. It can be easy to start with 5 to 10 minutes, then work up from there. When you are intentional with spending quality time with your child it increases the bond between the two of you

Things You Can Do First Thing In The Morning To Be a More Present Parent:

  • Lovingly rouse them from sleep.
  • Wake them by singing a good morning song.
  • Cuddle in the bed with them. 
  • Ask them what are they looking forward to today. 

Things You Can Do At Bedtime To Be a More Present Parent:

  • Read them a book.
  • Ask them about the highs and lows of their day. 
  • Give them backrubs and back scratches.
  • Snuggle up with them.

Your child will begin to look forward to and anticipate the time that you will spend together. Try for quantity time and quality time and mind your mindset while you are with your child. Make sure all of you is present.

3. Take time for yourself.

If your tank is empty you have nothing to give and won’t be present. As parents, we have been told that our lives should revolve around our kids. Parents feel like it is selfish to take care of themselves. It’s really not. When you take care of yourself, you are creating greater capacity to give your energy to be with your child. Taking time to get enough sleep, eating right, exercising (running, yoga, biking, walking, hiking), or writing in a journal, all help put you in the right frame of mind to be an engaged and present parent. 

4. Bring them into your daily life.

There are many parts of our lives that we can incorporate our children into.

Exercise: If you walk, run, or bike, get a baby carrier and take them with you. Put them in their stroller for a walk around the neighborhood or park. All the while, talk to them about what they see: the tall trees, the falling leaves, insects, and animals.

Cooking: Set up a small table for your child with child-sized utensils. Allow them to play with pots you’re not using. If your child is an infant, place them in their seat where they can see you. Cook while having a running conversation with your child. Talk to them about what you are doing. Ask them questions about their thoughts and feelings. 

Work: If you are having to work from home with a young child, create a “workspace” for your new “assistant.” Give them paper, crayons, and washable markers as supplies. 

Household Chores: Your child can sort clothes by color to place in the washing machine, take clothes out of the dryer, and carry clothes to the correct room. Give your child the responsibility to feed and water the family pets. 

If you’ve been beating yourself up as a busy parent, STOP.

Kids aren’t looking for perfect parents; they are looking for present parents. Don’t allow the stress of “Am I doing enough?” hamper you from enjoying what you are doing. Spending quality time being present with your child should trump your feelings of guilt and stress about not spending enough time with a child. 

In reality, working moms today are actually spending more time with their children than stay-at-home moms did in the 1970s. Father-child quality time together has almost tripled in that same time period. Please give yourself a break. Make the most of all the moments you have with your child. You can do it!

Is it normal to have a bad day with your kids? Do traffic lights seem to turn red when you’re in a hurry? Does your baby seem to poop in their diaper two minutes before you need to leave the house or worse, in their potty-training underwear? Does your 5-year-old son say they have to use the bathroom 5 minutes into a long road trip?

Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

No one wants to have a bad day, especially when there are little people depending on you for their wellbeing. And we do everything we can to prevent our little people from having bad days. But guess what? Sometimes they happen, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

There are days where you’re less patient, more irritable, snappy and short, tired, or sluggish. It’s part of life. You’re human and life happens. We experience stressful seasons at work, deal with pain and loss, and have unexpected circumstances pop up. Sometimes, you just wake up on the wrong side of the bed. You’re not your usual self and you take it out on your children. You fuss at them for being a kid. You over-punish them for making too much noise. Or you snap at them for bothering… I mean wanting your attention. Maybe I’m projecting my experiences and the experiences of the parents I know on to you. If so, I apologize.

Let’s not even talk about your kids having a bad day where nothing you do seems to help. Those days where your 4-year-old is just constantly whining, your 6-year-old breaks everything he touches and your 8-year-old can’t get along with anyone, including you.

I could give you story after story of my bad days and bad days my seven kids have had. In fact, that’s how I let go of the pressure of not having a bad day. I talked to other parents who were in the same season or a little further along in their parenting journey and I heard their stories. I saw their laughter. And most importantly, I noticed their relationship with their child wasn’t negatively affected by their bad days. In some cases, the relationship seems to have been strengthened by them.

Crazy isn’t it? Bad days can strengthen your relationship?

Some of our bad days have resulted in laughable memories, like the time my spouse, myself, and my 3-year-old daughter were at a friend’s house. We were filming a promotional video about parenting. Ironic to say the least. I was frustrated because work was stressful that day, I got home late, they weren’t ready to go, we were stopped by every traffic light, I got pulled over for speeding, and of course, we were late. And my daughter cried while we were there for a solid hour and a half. 

To this day, we don’t know why. (I’m still not sure how we got the filming completed. She wasn’t scheduled to be filmed, thank goodness.) She was having a bad day. I was trying to pacify her bad mood in the midst of my own frustrations with no success.

We look back on that day and laugh. It was stressful at the moment. I struggled for a few days because the cat was let out of the bag with everyone that was there… We’re NOT PERFECT PARENTS. We were late. I was clearly flustered. And my daughter cried forever. 

What eased my struggles?

A couple of days later, I was talking to several parents who heard the story. They started sharing their bad days. For 20 minutes straight, parents kept adding their stories, sharing their experiences, and laughing. 

On its own, this may not have been spectacular. The memory I have is that some of them were older parents (aka grandparents) who were talking about their kids, friends of mine that I have the utmost respect for as people, friends, and citizens. I could see the richness of their parent-child relationships. I could see the love, emotional connection, respect, and care in their relationships. And, I could see that the best relationships often happen through the bad days. 

My 13-year-old daughter and I still laugh about that “horrible” night. And when we do, she and her six siblings start telling stories of some of my bad days.

Days I may have fussed at them for no good reason or gone overboard in punishment for a minor offense or an offense they didn’t even commit.

  • I realized having a bad day was not a reflection on my parenting skills. 
  • Bad days haven’t altered my course of life or my children’s. 
  • I wasn’t always to blame. And even on the days where I was the catalyst behind my bad day, it didn’t make me a horrible parent.

In the midst, I’ve learned not to take myself too seriously as a parent. My kids have learned that their parents are human and make mistakes. What’s most important is the relationship, not getting everything just right. I don’t ever wake up planning to have bad days. Normally in the midst of the bad days, I don’t realize it’s happening. 

Sometimes there’s acknowledgment and apologies that follow a bad day. Sometimes there’s laughter. 

There are often talks where we have to correct behavior and help adjust a mindset. Sometimes there are consequences my children experience because how they were feeling doesn’t excuse the behavior. 

With experience, you learn ways to shorten a bad day and help your child get through it. 

Remembering that bad days are part of the relationship-building process that will occur with anyone you’re spending that much time with will help you use your bad days to embrace everyone’s humanity. Ultimately this strengthens your relationship, one apology, and one story at a time. And if not, call my kids; they’ll make you feel a whole lot better about your bad day.

Image from AdobeStock.com

A few years ago I was walking through the grocery store when I encountered a mom and her toddler who was giving her a run for her money. As we were both walking down the aisle, I could hear her whispering, “You can do it, Susan! Hang in there. Just a few more minutes.” 

At first I thought she was talking to her daughter, but then I realized she was encouraging herself in the midst of a hard moment with her child. I thought to myself, “You go girl!” I can remember plenty of hard moments, and just plain bad days with my daughter that I didn’t handle well. Even into a new day I found myself struggling to get over the bad day we had the day before.

Fortunately, I had some moms in my life who were further down the road in their parenting than I was. They didn’t judge me, which I am very thankful for. They did take me under their wing and offer some wise words to help me get over the bad days. Now, I’m passing their wisdom along to you, with a little of my own.

Don’t take it personally.

Believe me, I know it’s hard not to. When they act a fool in the checkout line or look straight at you and do exactly what you asked them not to do, it’s a challenge to remind yourself: it really isn’t about you. However, if you can train yourself to do this, it will be helpful.

Avoid beating yourself up.

We all have bad days, kids and parents alike. When your child is especially challenging, it can bring out the absolutely worst in us and it just goes downhill from there. The natural tendency hours later or the next day is to say, “If only I had…”  or to question your ability to be a good parent. None of this is helpful to you or your child.

Acknowledge your emotions.

Listen, parenting isn’t a walk in the park. Tell me something I don’t know, right? Some stages are more challenging than others. I remember calling a friend after a particularly bad day with my daughter. I was crying, actually sobbing and I said, “I’m an utter and complete failure at parenting.” She point blankly said, “No, you are not a failure. You just haven’t figured out what works yet with your daughter.” Then she talked me down off the ledge. 

There literally may be days where you are asking, “Where do I go to resign?” because you are angry, resentful, hopeless, and exhausted. Believe it or not, it’s very helpful to say those things out loud or to write them on a piece of paper.

Look for underlying issues.

For example, COVID-19 quarantine has had all of us out of sync from our normal routines. As adults, we can talk about how much we don’t like not knowing what tomorrow will bring. But for a child, especially a young child, while they pick up on your stress and anxiety, they aren’t able to verbalize it, so they act it out. Hence your very own child creating their own version of “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” A death in the family, something happening to your dog, overhearing you fighting with your spouse—any number of things can bring on a bad day.

Seek to restore the relationship.

Once you have taken a moment (or a few hours) to calm down, find your child and apologize straight up. Don’t add on, “but if you had done what mommy asked…” Just apologize. “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” You might say, “If that happens again, let’s do things differently,” and calmly talk through a better way to handle the behavior or the day. All of this models behavior you want your child to learn and the skills they need for healthy relationships.

Spend some time together doing something fun.

After apologizing and spending a little time talking about what happened, find a way to spend some calm, easygoing time together. Take a walk, play with blocks, read a book (The Color Monster: A Story about Emotions is a great read), play “I Spy” or make cookies together.

Never underestimate the power of a hug.

Adults and children alike need them, especially after a bad day. Even if you aren’t completely over the bad day, you still want to avoid withholding hugs. Loving, physical touch can be as healing as spoken words.

There will be days when you don’t like your child’s behavior or your own for that matter. However, don’t confuse not liking their behavior with not liking or loving them. Our children need to know that even on their very best or worst day, there isn’t anything they could do that would make us love them more or less. 

For the most part, I am on the other side of the bad days. In the midst of them, I often questioned my Fit Mom Card, and I had a hard time believing there were better days ahead. In case nobody else is saying it to you—you are a good mom. Even on your worst day, you’re a good mom. Stop telling yourself otherwise. It’s a wild ride. We all have moments we want to forget. It is unlikely your child will hold your bad days against you, especially if you put into practice what we have talked about.

Image from FreePik.com

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

FACT #1: There’s nothing like being the dad of a daughter. 


FACT #2: To a daughter, there’s no one like her dad. 

I’ll be honest: both times my wife and I were pregnant, I was hoping for a boy. I was an only child, and I had no idea how to navigate the world of tutus, dolls, fingernail polish, or Disney princesses. But after my first daughter was born, and even more so after my second, I can tell you I wouldn’t trade it for anything

There is truly a special bond between a dad and daughter. It’s hard to explain. To know what I do—my presence, my attention, my support, my compassion for my daughters—will be carried with them through their entire lives is both a massively overwhelming mission and a wonderfully great privilege.

And if you were to look up the research on dads and daughters, you’d find a warm, affectionate relationship between the two does indeed help a young girl thrive and develop. Fathers leave a legacy with their daughters which positively informs their identity, confidence, body image, assertiveness, mental health, and problem-solving skills. Not to mention, being the first man in your daughter’s life, you are the one who teaches her the level of respect, love, and treatment she deserves from the opposite sex. 

Fellow dads out there, we’ve got a mission. 

How can a dad foster a strong connection with his daughter? Here are five ways to be the best dad for your daughter: 

1. Be present.

Not just in the same room or in the car picking her up from preschool. I mean, be truly present. Engage with your daughter. Talk, interact, ask questions. There’s a big difference between sitting on the same couch and directing your attention toward your daughter. She needs to know you are interested in her. She will beam when you ask her questions and show an interest in the things she is interested in—tutus, Disney princesses, and all. 

2. Take your daughter on dates.

I can’t stress this enough. Even when they are barely walking, daddy-daughter dates hold a special place in her heart. These are the opportunities for your little girl to experience “out there” with you, at the pizza place, the park, the movie theater, fishing, the hiking trail. It gives her the experience of seeing how you operate and behave outside the home, with other people in other places, while knowing your attention is solely on her. So much positive development and socialization results from this kind of quality time with you.

3. Hug, cuddle, and hold hands.

Your daughter needs a positive, comforting touch from you. She gains a sense of warmth, protection, and security when you wrap your arm around her or give her a big goodnight smooch at bedtime. Many daughters love tickle fights and wrestling matches. (Dads need to be wary of how far these go; always give them an easy “way out” of a pin or hold so they don’t feel trapped. Otherwise, the touch turns from feeling protective to overly vulnerable.) There’s power in a dad’s touch which can be used to strengthen the connection with his daughter.

4. Build her up.

Never miss the opportunity for genuine encouragement, compliments, and praise. Just like there is power in your touch, there is also power in a dad’s words. Your daughter loves to impress you, whether it’s with her artwork, her dancing skills, or her knowledge of Disney princesses. Showing your accolades helps her to develop confidence and esteem. Encourage her to keep trying when she can’t quite get something right, like tying her shoes, learning how to spell a word or learning to jump hurdles; this helps her to build grit and determination. 

5. Tell her “I love you,” often.

Dads, your daughter can’t hear these words enough. As my girls have gotten older, I’ve come to realize I don’t tell them this because I necessarily want them to know it in the moment; I tell them I love you because I want them to remember how true it is when I’m not with them. These words give your daughter security and comfort, especially when you are away. Make a habit of telling them this in the most unexpected moments. 

To a daughter, there’s no one like her dad.

You are one-of-a-kind to her, the first and most important man of her life. Yes, the mission is daunting. But you’ve got what it takes to be a great dad. Your daughter believes in you, so go out there and prove her right. And don’t be afraid to wear a tutu while watching a Disney princess movie every now and then. (You might even get your fingernails painted for free!)

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As parents, the memories linger from the first time you laid eyes on your child or the first time you held your child. Those are memorable moments. As your child continues to grow, there will be additional moments that strengthen your relationship. Strengthening your relationship builds bonds of love, connectedness, and support that last a lifetime.

Research throughout the years has indicated that bonding and attachment in infancy has many benefits in your child’s life which may include independence, self-reliance, better academic performance, and positive social interactions. When they were babies, we bonded by holding them, looking into their eyes, smiling at them and talking to them. As they grow in personality and become mobile, we have to find innovative ways to further our bonds. 

Here are 5 simple things you can do to strengthen your relationship with your child:

1. Read Together

Reading is fundamental to bonding and you can start doing it even when they are infants. As your child grows, reading can be an integral part of your quality time together. Having them sit on your lap and reading a story while making all the wonderful voices for each character not only gives them an appreciation for reading, but it also expands their vocabulary. As they reach ages 5-8, allow them to read to you.   

2. Get Physical 

As family therapist Virginia Satir famously said, “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” Find those times in the day when you can physically connect with your child. Wake them up with a hug and a smile. As you prepare for your day either in person or virtual, create a routine of hugging, butterfly kisses, or a special handshake to signal the beginning of the work/school day. Small gestures like a pat on the back, a rub on the shoulder or an old-fashioned high five are ways to bond with your child. 

3. Play

Play can take on many forms as your child grows—from peek-a-boo with an infant to board and card games, even appropriate video games. Plus, play bonds us because when we laugh and engage in rough and tumble play it stimulates the release of endorphins and oxytocin. Take time to show your child the games you played at their age: Hide and Seek, Tag, Red Light, Green Light, Tic-Tac-Toe just to name a few. 

4. Make time to give each child your undivided attention

We always seem to have things take up time on our schedules from work expectations, household responsibilities, or family activities. Sometimes we turn to our devices to take us away from all that is on our to-do list. Making time for your child can seem like another thing to be added to our list. However, it is vital to take small moments of time to focus your attention on your child. It doesn’t have to be long but your child will feel cared for, valued, and important to you. If you are the parent of more than one child, making time for each child builds a personal and individual connection between you. 

5. Enjoy each moment with your child

Your child will grow so fast, but hoping and wishing for the next stage only seems to make the time go faster. Learn to enjoy and savor each moment with your child whether it be making cookies, building a snowman, or singing at the top of your lungs. Slow down to appreciate the small moments together.

The famous saying, “the days are long but the years are short” may resonate with you, especially when you are dealing with an extra-long day. It may feel like everything is calling for your attention from the dishes to the laundry. Consider the big picture—there will be plenty of time to focus on cleaning out closets and a spotless house when your child is Grown and Gone. It’s not always the big moments that stand out, but those small little times that make the largest impact. Make and take time each day to strengthen your relationship with your child.

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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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