Spending time with them. Children of all ages are a weird bunch. They not worried at all about bills, labels, people’s opinions…none of the stuff that stresses you out basically. All they want is your time. They understand early that your time is the real resource, a commodity in hot demand–and they desperately want it. My children are never so excited as when mom and dad take off work to be seen with them. Spencer and I laugh about it often, but BOTH girls walk around holding his hand like royalty when he shows up to a school anything. Time signifies importance.
Giving your undivided attention. Again, like your time, this a hot commodity. We give attention to stuff and people that matter. If you want kids to know without doubt that they matter, give them your attention. Put the phone, Kindle, book, and other random distractions down. Watch them while they play. Bake some cookies. Put on a kid movie and sit on the couch with them. Lie in the bed with them silently. Paint some toes. Check their homework. Check their social media accounts. Check their friends. Check their emails. Read a book with them. Let them teach you how to play that stupid video game. Anything that focuses only on them. They will know that they matter because they will feel your gaze. It validates them and helps them to validate their own experience of self.
Disciplining them. Not punishing them, though the two thoughts are not mutually exclusive. Correct them, then demonstrate the right or better or alternative way (again, not mutually exclusive ideas). Show them how to be professional. Show them how to resolve conflicts without being violent or evil or ugly. Show them how to forgive and ask for forgiveness. Show them how grace and mercy work in real time. Show them how to feel, then process and move on. Show them how every action has a consequence (consequences are not always good, not always bad but always affect what’s next). Show them humanity and show them that they are humans instead of a lower level of human. Show them what that means.
Growing openly in front of them. No human exists who was perfect except Jesus (y’all can fight me). This means that we all have room to learn and grow. This means that we all make mistakes, do right things for wrong reasons, and wrong things for right reasons. That we fuck up royally. That we don’t know anything, and the little bit we do know came from trial and error (heavy on the error). That failure isn’t the opposite of success but a step in the process of success. Tell them how you have messed up and learned something from it. My own children take to heart when I say,”I used to do this terrible thing. I was a liar. I was sneaky. I was mean. I was messy. I was lazy. This is what happened because of that. This is how I became better.” Don’t paint yourself as somehow a better human than you were. You sucked, too. But you overcame–or at least you’re working on some aspect of yourself. I hope.
Showing them physical affection. Affection is life. We are built to be touched. Hug. Kiss. Hold. Pat. Rub. Cuddle. Tickle. High five. Lie with. Scratch. Embrace your children in ways that affirm their lovableness. After food, kids starve most from lack of affection. It kills them in ways that they can rarely recover from. Affection keeps them pliable, empathetic, connected. Touch reminds them that they are here–that they are a part of the big picture. It makes them present. It forces them to take stock of their own humanity, which in turn makes them take stock in everyone else’s. You are less likely to destroy what you are connected to.
Listen to them. Children want to be heard. They are learning to process their emotions, ideas, hopes, and dreams. They are figuring things out. They need to talk stuff out. They cannot do that if they cannot talk to you. Talking to friends is an echo chamber that leads to bad decisions. Talking to untrustworthy adults leads to danger. You must be a safe place for them to empty themselves. A mirror through which they reflect on their own experiences of the world. Listen without judgment and listen without interruption. Ask meaningful questions. Give support. Show love. Walk in grace. Listen.
Notice that none of this involves money. Status. Stuff. It only requires you. It requires your willingness to be there fully. Hope you take my advice.