There are so many different parenting styles, each with its own list of techniques to follow. Sure, those can help us figure out how to raise a child the right way. Today, though, I want to focus on my favorite parenting rules that teach us how to really love a child. Let’s get started.
Parenting Rules That Teach Us How to Really Love a Child
Last week, I wrote about my top family rules that teach kids what really matter. I finished it up with a quote full of rules that I live by for myself. I’ve been thinking about that quote since then. I really feel like it warrants its own discussion. So, here we are! Let me start by re-sharing that with you. Take a look:
Now, let’s break it down and talk about how these “rules” teach us how to really love a child, versus just raising them to be decent human beings (which, of course, is equally as important). We’ll go over each one and take a closer look.
1. Be there.
The single most important way to love a child is to just be there for them. Show up and truly be present. Let them know that they matter. When you’re with them, be with them.
I’m not saying that you have to devote every waking moment with them. Parents need space and time to themselves, too. But if you’re playing on the floor with them, or watching their tennis match, or even just having a discussion with them…actually focus on them.
2. Say YES as often as you can.
We’re so concerned with raising unspoiled kids who can accept “no” for an answer that we forget it’s okay to say “yes.” I’m not saying you have to buy your kids a toy every time they ask for one. We’d be bankrupt in about a day if we all did that. But if they ask for something that costs you nothing but time to give, it’s okay to say “sure, we can do that!”
3. Let them bang on pots and pans.
My least favorite old-school parenting saying of all time is the one that says children should be seen and not heard. What a horrible idea! Kids are noisy in a big, beautiful and bright way. They’re so full of life and zest and zeal.
Let them be loud. Let them bang on pots and pans as they march around the house singing off-key while the dog barks madly behind them. Yeah, I know, the noise doesn’t do wonders for the head, but it’s definitely good for the heart & soul!
4. If they’re crabby, put them in water.
I’ve yet to find a better way to lift my kids’ spirits and vanquish a bad mood than spending the afternoon at the beach or in the pool. You don’t have to literally put them in water, though. If your child is in a foul little mood, don’t try to reason them- or worse, punish them- out of it. Just change the scenery!
5. Read books out loud with joy.
There are so many benefits of reading out loud to your child, from helping them develop language skills to raising them to love reading. That’s why we do it. However, it’s not why our kids ask us to do it.
To them, listening to you read is all about spending time with you doing something that they love. So, whether it’s the 1st or millionth time you’ve read Llama, Llama Red Pajama, put your whole heart into each and every syllable. It tells your kids that you put your whole heart into spending time with them.
6. Go find elephants and kiss them.
One day all too soon, your kids will stop believing in fairies. They’ll stop thinking that the moon is made of cheese, that thunder comes from people bowling in the sky, and that toys really do come to life when you leave the room.
The world will wash the whimsy right out of them all on its own. It doesn’t need help from you to speed along the process. Let them believe for as long as they can that they can kiss elephants. Even better, that you’ll be right by their side while they do.
7. Encourage silly. Giggle a lot.
Kids give us the perfect excuse to let our inner “weird” come out and play. Don’t waste this excuse. Embrace it! Dance like no one is watching. Tell “dad jokes” without rolling your eyes or groaning about how lame they are. Make faces at the dinner table. Sing loud and proud.
Most important of all, laugh with your kids. Laugh until you cry, until your side splits, until you can’t breathe. Make it a priority to be as silly as possible as often as possible.
8. Remember how really small they are.
I mentioned this the other day when I was talking about gentle parenting techniques, but it’s worth repeating. If you want to really love a child, remember that they ARE a child. They are not miniature adults, so don’t treat them like one.
Manage your expectations, set rational boundaries, and forgive them often for breaking them. In short, don’t set them up to fail by demanding more than they can give.
9. Search out the positive.
Someday all too soon, this world is going to teach your kids that life isn’t made up of sunshine and rainbows, that there isn’t always a silver lining on every cloud. Your job isn’t to prepare them for that. No, it’s really not.
Your job is to teach them that it really can’t rain all the time, and the sky truly won’t fall forever. That there may not be a bright side to every dark coin, there IS a bright morning after every dark night. Most important of all, your job is to give them the tools to find the bright side where they can and the strength to wait for the bright morning when they can’t.
10. Keep the gleam in your eye.
Look, I get it, parenting can be exhausting at times. Kids know how to push our buttons and try out patience like no one else on this earth can. But even when your very last nerve snaps right in half, keep that gleam of love in your eyes.
See, your kids aren’t just trying to drive you bonkers. As Nina Garcia of Sleeping Should Be Easy explains, they’re testing the boundaries of your love. The look on your face and in your eyes will tell them everything they need to know, so make sure it’s telling them that yes, you really do love them unconditionally and that nothing they do can ever drive you away.
11. Go see a movie in your pajamas.
Want to make memories that your kids will treasure always? Jump in the car in your footie jammies and go to a drive-in theater. Declare a random Wednesday a mental health day and go to the beach. Stomp in mud puddles together. Ask them what type of adventure they’d like to have today. Basically, just do something totally unexpected.
12. Teach feelings.
Feelings are SO very big when your SO very little. It’s our job as parents to make sure our children have a safe space to explore them. Teach them early on that it’s just as okay to cry as it is to laugh. That it’s okay to be mad when things don’t go their way, even if they’re mad at you. That they don’t have to like everyone all of the time to love them all of the time.
Teach them that others have feelings, too. That while it’s okay for them to be mad at you for not buying them a toy, it’s not okay to hurt your feelings by screaming “I hate you!” That while it’s okay to laugh with someone, it’s not okay to laugh at them. That kindness and compassion and empathy matter. That everyone’s feelings matter equally.
13. Realize how important it is to be a child.
Childhood is where we learn how to dream and imagine. What it means to love and be loved. Where we find our footing and learn to walk our own path. How to fall down and get back up. Where to find courage within ourselves and joy in unexpected places.
It’s a time when we believe that anything is possible because it still is. A time when we’re not thinking about the future and instead just living in the moment. It’s where we discover what it means to be a human being. Never, ever, ever for a moment underestimate its importance.
14. Plan to build a rocket ship.
Let your kids know that they can do anything they set their mind to. Listen to their big ideas and support them, even if it involves building a rocket ship to go to Neptune. Help them become dreamers. Better yet, be a dreamer yourself. Don’t just plan to build a rocket ship, do it! Even if it’s just a cardboard ship that takes them to imaginary Neptune.
15. Stop yelling.
Yelling at your kids accomplishes nothing other than scaring them. Learn a better way to communicate. No further explanation needed.
16. Express your love. A lot.
The most important way to really love a child is to just do it, and to make sure they know you do. Show them that you love them with all of your heart and soul. Until you feel like you’ll burst with it. Even when you’re mad at them. ESPECIALLY when you’re mad at them.
Tell them that you love them to the moon and back, to infinity and beyond, and more than all of the stars in the sky. Tell them every single day in a million different ways. Tell them every morning when they wake up and every night before they go to sleep. Make sure they know it with every last fiber of their tiny little beings.
17. Remember, children are miraculous.
I’ve said this before, children truly are remarkable little miracles. They’re entire living, breathing, thinking, and feeling beings that we literally created and grew from a single cell. They are of us yet separate from us. They’re the one miracle that we can all believe in, no matter what else we believe. Never forget that.
I’ll leave you with one last really wonderful quote, by Glennon Doyle Melton, “Don’t let yourself become so concerned with raising a good kid that you forget you already have one.” Also, don’t spend so much time worrying about how to raise kids who grow up to change the world that you forget that they already are changing your world.
To me, the most important parenting rules (if there even are rules to raising kids) have nothing to do with discipline, or sleep training, or setting rules and boundaries, or anything else you can learn in a book written by someone claiming to be an expert in that which NO ONE can actually be an expert in. To me, the most important ones are those that teach US how to really love a child, and I definitely feel like these “rules” above do just that.