I am in no way a parenting expert.
With a child who is only three, I am still a new mom by some standards. We’re just touching on the preschool age. But I can tell you the most important thing you need to know about your child. About any child.
I know what children want.
I’m not talking about toys or games or trips or anything material. What I’m talking about is the number one thing that all children of any age and any gender and every single nationality want from their parents more than any of those material possessions.
What children want more than anything is your adoration.
They want to hear that what they are doing is enough and good and wonderful. They want to know that they matter to you. This includes their ideas, opinions, hobbies, and all the little things that make them who they are. They want to know that you love them and you are proud of them. They want to be encouraged by you.
Our children look to us for validation.
There are lots of reasons to feel like you have screwed up as a parent, but if you do this one thing, you are really doing okay! If you are taking the time and making the effort to show your children how much they mean to you emotionally, you are doing them a world of good, and you are a great parent.
I have always really believed in this, but there are a few times that it has just really hit me through things my daughter has said just how true it is that this is the number one thing our kids look to us for. Just today she was peeling a clementine by herself, and she showed me. I thought she saw something on it, so I asked her about what she was showing me and she said “I did it all by myself Mommy. Am I doing a good job? Did I do it right?” I know it doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re three and you do something new by yourself with no help from your grown ups, it’s a pretty big deal! These are the times our little ones need our praise! They need that validation when they do the things that are important to THEM, not just the things we see as the big stuff.
The time I remember most though, we were brushing teeth and Reagan had recently started brushing her own. Of course when she’s done I still go over them and I always tell her what a good job she’s done. Except one night I was preoccupied and I just brushed away. But she was quick to shop me and say “Mommy, please tell me that I did a good job.”
My heart broke a little that she might have thought that I forgot or didn’t think the job she did was worthy of my praise, but I am so grateful that she feels like she can tell me the things she needs to hear and everything she’s thinking.
But I know not all kids will tell you what they need from you, what they need to hear. I also know that it is easy to forget to think on their level and really stop and listen to what is important to our kids.
There was another time I stopped Reagan when she was talking. I was just positive I knew what she was going to say, and I felt like she wasn’t listening. Oh the tears! She cried like her heart had just broken in two. Mommy always listens and cares, and she counted on that, but in that moment I didn’t. In those moments it is blatantly obvious what our children want from us.
I’m not saying any of this to put down your parenting or my parenting. I feel like these are moment’s I’ve gotten some really clear insight into the wants and needs of children, and that should be shared. Think of it as a gentle reminder ;) I know I need those sometimes!
Now that I’ve shared some learning experiences, here are some of my very favorite ways to show my daughter that I adore her:
1. Talk to her. Tell her things that she won’t understand yet. Talk about everything and anything. When Reagan was just a tiny baby I would talk to her about the fields and read her the paper. I narrated everything I did. Not because she could understand it, but because one day she would. Talking to our kids makes them feel important and worthy of being talked to.
2. Listen to her. No, it doesn’t always make sense. It is usually quite quotable and funny though! And it is always important. As the saying goes “If you don’t listen to the little stuff now, don’t expect them to tell you the big stuff later, because to them it was always big stuff.” That is so true. Giving a child your time to listen to their ideas is so huge.
3. Praise her. No, turning our house into an ice rink does not sound doable to me for a number of reasons, but when a three year old comes to you with a full explanation of just how we can make this happen, you nod along. The fact that they have started planning things and thinking things through, even if it’s not realistic yet, is important. Fostering independent thought and opinions and creative thinking is important. And all it takes is a simple “That’s a really good idea! I’m proud of you!”
4. Turn off the electronics. That means the phone, the iPad, and the computer. Anything that you spend a lot of time looking at. Put down your books, too. Do something with your child or watch them and give them your full and totally undivided attention. I am so guilty of not doing this enough! I have online classes and computer-based businesses and emails to respond to and friends to text back, and I let my electronics have way too much of my attention. It is really important to take the time to unplug and show your child that they do not have to compete for your attention and they are more important than those texts and emails.
5. Tell her! Really go all out on this one! We have fun seeing who can love the other one farther. My daughter literally says “I love you to the moon and the stars and the galaxy and the Palace Pet Salon and all the way back again!” And apparently that is like the farthest EVER and I can’t top it, but I know I can cause mama love is the biggest ;) Even if you don’t say it quite like that, always tell your little one how much you love them, how wonderful they are, how smart they are, and how much they mean to you. Use all the happy adjectives you can think of! Nothing beats telling them how great you think they are, because if you believe it, they believe it.
6. Ask her. This kind of goes along with active listening. Ask and you shall receive. Little people have BIG opinions on just about everything! They are usually funny and will almost always surprise you. If you ask for your child’s opinion on things, you are showing them that their thoughts and opinions matter. They mean something to you, and again, that means that they will in turn think that their thoughts mean something.
I have talked before about being intentional in parenting, and this is a big place to put intention to use. Be intentional about giving love and praise and affection to your children. Show them they are worthy of your love. Tell them just how much they rock! If you believe it, they will.
And that is what every child wants more than anything.