1. Write little notes for your child. In this age of texts and emails, a small message tucked inside a school bag or lunch box can be a nice treat for kids. (For older kids, who are likely to not want friends to see them getting notes from mom and dad, you may want to leave little messages around his room or in surprising places like on the bathroom mirror.) The notes don’t have to be very long–just a quick message saying “Have a good day” or “I love you.” And to save time, you can make a stack of notes beforehand and have them ready to put in your child’s lunch or school bag.
2. Hug when you say goodbye and when you say hello. You know that old saying about actions speaking louder than words? It can be all too easy to forget to hug your child when you say hello or goodbye. Some parents may naturally do this without thinking but others–perhaps because they didn’t grow up with parents who hugged them regularly–may not do it every day. It’s a small gesture but one that means a lot to kids, who will then likely grow up to pass on this habit to their own children.
3. Have dinner together. Research shows that eating dinner with parents is associated with a number of benefits for kids including reduced risk of substance abuse, higher grades, and better self-esteem. Mealtime is an excellent chance to catch up on the day and to talk about anything that might be on your child’s mind. If dinner every night is not possible because you have to work late or a child has an evening soccer game or other extracurricular activity, you can make breakfast or snack time your time together or have some healthy fruit for dessert when you can grab a few minutes when you get home.
4. Read together. This may be something you made more time for when your child was younger, especially at bedtime. But just because school-age kids are learning to read on their own, it doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of reading together. Grab your own book or some bills or work you need to catch up on and snuggle right next to your child for some quiet reading time.
5. Plan activities you’ll enjoy on the weekends. Talk about things you’d like to do and make a plan for the weekend. Whether it’s a picnic, a hike, a trip to the museum, or just hanging out to watch a new kids’ movie, planning something to do together and looking forward to it is a great way to show your child how much you love her.
6. Say “Thank you” and “You’re welcome.” One of the biggest benefits of raising a grateful child is that they appreciate the little things you do for them. When they say “Thank you,” always say “You’re welcome.” And be sure to set a good example by thanking them, even when they do everyday routines like helping set or clear the table.
7. Give your child your full attention. A recent survey found that kids are noticing that parents are distracted and on their phones rather than paying attention to them. When your child wants to talk to you about something, put aside your phone and other distractions and really pay attention. Of course, sometimes you have to make dinner or help a sibling with something and can’t always give your child your full focus. But make sure that you block off some time to really stop, look, and listen to your child, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
8. Share something about yourself. Was there something that made you happy that day? Did you finish something at work that you are proud of, or is there a project you’re working on that has hit a glitch? Is there a friend or a co-worker who needs your help? While you certainly will want to steer clear of inappropriate topics of any sort of gossip, sharing something from your own life can help your child feel more connected to you, and will make him feel proud that you value his opinion.
9. Play with your child. Whether it’s playing a board game, building something with Legos, or making fun crafts together, do something fun with your child. And on days when you have no time to play, make something you have to do–say clean up after dinner–as fun as possible by getting kids to dance to a song they choose while you do your chores with them. Whatever activity you choose to do, be a kid again and really get into the spirit of things. Being a parent gives you an excuse to throw yourself into fun, and it’s a privilege you should enjoy as much as you can.
10. Discipline, with lots of love and understanding. Disciplining kids–which is not yelling or punishing but showing them how to make better choices and develop the tools to regulate themselves–is an important way to show your child you love him every day. When you take the time to teach your child what is and isn’t good behavior in a loving but firm way, you are showing that you care about him and how he relates to the world around him.
11. Tell your child what you love about her. Make a point to tell your child something good you noticed about her each day. Did you like the way she kept trying to get a homework example right, even when it was difficult? Were you proud of the way she handled a problem with a friend or a sibling? Or did you appreciate that she set the table for dinner without you having to ask her more than once? Point out whatever positive little thing you notice about your child and mention that you saw it and appreciated it.
12. Laugh together! Never underestimate the power of being goofy together. You can find ways to inject fun into the most ordinary routines. For example, if you walk to school together, you can do silly walks (a la Monty Python). Over breakfast, tell each other the goofiest jokes you’ve heard recently, or make up silly words using new vocabulary works. On the weekends, you can hang out in bed and play word games make up silly stories until it’s time to make breakfast together.
Whatever way you decide to tell your child how you feel about him each day, be sure to do it. Befoe you know it, these shared times together can quickly become missed opportunities that disappear as quickly as the years with your child go by. Make sure that doesn’t happen by making the time to enjoy the company of your children each and every single day.