The Little Stuff Love’s Made Of

Planting a flowerbed with Mom. Shaving with Dad. Simple stuff? No way. To kids, this is the heart of feeling loved.

The little stuff of everyday life that may seem mundane to you is a big deal for kids of all ages, says Dr. Patti Zomber, a psychologist for children and families.

They might not express it in words, but your kids want to be like you–and that means being in on what you do. Return the compliment and let them into your world. It’s easy! Just do what you naturally do every day and make an effort to draw them in.

To kids, feeling loved isn’t about receiving lavish gifts or always getting their way. It’s more about the little things you say and do to draw them into your everyday life. “Want to come with me to the store?” means, “I enjoy your company.” “What should we have for dinner-spaghetti or meatloaf?” means, “I value your opinions.” “Here’s how to thread a needle,” means, “You’re old enough to help.”

Kids feel loved when you make time to enjoy their worlds, too. Plan time in your day to get down on the floor and do a puzzle. Style your daughter’s hair and try on a little makeup or nail polish. Tell jokes from your childhood–they’ll be new to your kids. And laugh uproariously at the “knock-knocks” you hear in return.

“I love you.” In the rhythm of everyday life, those are the lyrics. But the hand you extend as you walk to the car, the smile on your face when your daughter steps off the bus, the funny story you share with your son before bed–this is the music.

Love through the ages and stages
Children take small steps into the adult world by looking to their parents for guidance. Dr. Zomber says that same-gender identification (boys wanting to be like their dads, girls admiring their moms) is part of becoming an individual.

Just like mom (ages 2-5)
Children of this age want to be just like their parents. Share your childhood with your kids by talking about your favorite foods (“I ate peanut butter on bananas…”) or your hobbies (“I collected marbles…”). Talk to your kids on their level, too–make up songs in the car, take swings with a T-Ball bat at the sporting goods store together, or go to the zoo and name the animals after people you know.

“I’m good at this.” (ages 6-8)
At this stage, kids are developing their skill sets in hot interest areas such as sports, video games and music. It’s a great time to share mother-daughter activities, such as pitching and hitting softballs, or father-son activities, such as washing the car or playing the guitar. Reinforce the love you feel for your child with simple (and simply non-mushy) statements such as, “I loved going to the library together. You are fun to be with.” It builds confidence for their social interactions.

Staying in the loop (ages 9-12)
Preteens are smart, savvy, and often sassy (in both funny and not-so-funny ways). They identify your treatment of them as the model for how other adults in their lives–such as teachers and coaches–will treat them. Respectful, logical, and consistent limits at home will give them the tools to deal with restrictions at school and cope with their own age restrictions. At this age, friends are big influences, too. Stay in the loop with your kids by interacting with them and their friends as often as possible.