Itasca, IL -- One of the most important parts of parenting is also the sweetest: showing your child plenty of love and affection.
“Building strong bonds and a positive relationship with your child has a nurturing effect on their physical, emotional, and social development,” said Jennifer Shu, MD, FAAP, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and medical editor of its parenting website,
HealthyChildren.org. “As parents, the unconditional love and support we show them is one of the most powerful ways we can help them thrive.”
The AAP offers 14 tips to help children feel loved—on Valentine’s Day, and every day.
Choose words with care. Use plenty of positive and encouraging words when talking with your child. Model consideration and gratitude by saying “please" and “thank you.” Skip the sarcasm, mockery and put-downs, even if teasing. Children often don’t understand your purpose. Even if they do, these messages can harm self-esteem and create negative ways of talking and connecting with each other.
Hold time together dear. Mark game nights or other family activities on your calendar so that everyone can look forward to enjoying time together. Also be sure to carve out one-on-one time with each of your children regularly to do something they enjoy. Turn off cellphones, tablets and other media devices during these special times.
Heart-to-heart conversations. Ask your child “How was your day?” and listen to the answer. If they tell you about a challenge they are facing, let them finish the story before helping solve the problem. If you see signs of anxiety or depression, ask your pediatrician for advice on how to help.
Hugs first. When your child is angry, grouchy or in a bad mood, give a quick hug, cuddle, pat, secret nod or other sign of affection and then consider talking with them about the event when they’re feeling better.
Let them know you’re listening. Respond promptly and lovingly to your child's physical and emotional needs. Be available to listen when your child wants to talk, even if it’s not the best time for you.
Discipline with love. Use a positive, non-violent discipline. Harsh physical and verbal punishment don’t work and can damage long-term physical and mental health. From an early age, explain clear and consistent rules that your children can understand. Give praise when they follow them—not just punishment when they don’t. Calmly explain consequences and follow through right away when rules are broken.
Forgive mistakes, including your own. If you lose your cool and react harshly to your child, apologize and explain how you will handle the situation in the future. Be sure to keep your promise. Also forgive yourself. No one, including the parent, is perfect. Understanding how to forgive is important for your child to accept their own mistakes as well, and build confidence.
Share the love of reading. Start reading to your child beginning in infancy. Many studies show that reading together strengthens parent-child bonds and promotes positive parenting. Plus, when you read to or with your child, you help them build a foundation for success in school, which is linked to long-term wellness.
Cook & eat together. One of the best ways to teach your children about good food choices and enjoy each other’s company is to cook together. Involve them in the entire process, from planning the menus to shopping for ingredients to preparing and serving the meal. Family meals are a great opportunity to talk and connect. Put away any electronic devices, including your own phone.
Foster friendships. Help your child develop positive relationships with friends, siblings and members of the community. Consider inviting friends or neighbors to spend time drinking tea, sharing a meal, playing a game, or helping others in need. Encourage your child to be involved in sports or other activities that require teamwork. Get to know your child’s friends and talk about responsible and respectful relationships.
Care for a pet. Consider adopting a pet if possible. Having a pet can help make some children, especially those with chronic illnesses and disabilities, feel better by increasing their physical activity, enhancing their overall positive feelings, and offering another way to connect with someone they care about.
Embrace health & safety. Show how much you care by taking your children to the doctor regularly for well-child care visits. Teach them how to be safe from injuries, provide a healthy and nutritious diet, and encourage good amounts of sleep and exercise to help them grow healthy and strong. A good place to start is by using seat belts or child passenger safety seats every time you are in a car.
Continue to show affection & attention. Remember, all children want their parent's attention, no matter their age. Make time every day to talk. Young people are more likely to make healthy choices if they stay connected with family members.
3 words to share without limit. Don't forget to say "I love you" to your children on February 14—and many more times for the rest of their lives.
Media outlets are encouraged to use these tips with attribution to the AAP. For an interview with an AAP expert on helping your child feel loved, contact the academy’s public affairs team.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults.