Consider daily acts of love to family members as a kind of preventative medicine: not only will being more loving make us feel more joyful and satisfied with our lives, it also helps us deal with the tougher times by promoting connection and communication.
1. Kiss everyone in the family good morning and good night.
2. Listen. Especially when you want to give advice. If kids feel that you really respect and value their thoughts and opinions, they’re more likely to open up about the bigger stuff. So, when you ask questions about what’s going on for them, put down what you’re doing for a moment and give them your full attention.
3. Hold hands as often as possible. Just because your children can cross the road safely doesn’t mean your hand-holding days are over. When you’re out for a together, walk along holding hands and pass secret squeezes back and forth. You can ‘send’ different rhythms to each other which gets more fun if there are several of you holding hands in a row.
4. Brush hair. Hair brushing is used as a way to be tactile with traumatised kids, without being in-your-face affectionate. It can equally be a way of reaching out to teenagers who don’t want to cuddle on the sofa, as a means to gently connect with them in a loving and tactile way.
5. Make up silly, loving songs about your kids. Favourite songs can be adapted to include children’s names. Or dedicate a song you all like or with lyrics that particularly resonate to each child: every time it comes on the radio, you can all sing it to the special recipient.
6. When you feel like you’re going to lose your temper, get down on their level and see the world through their eyes. Really inhabit what it feels like to be them. Last time I did this I realised how big I was in comparison to my son, and it made me want to be gentler. I also witnessed how connected he is to his emotions, and that big moods pass pretty quickly.
7. Write little messages like ‘Smile – you’re beautiful’ and ‘I love you and I want to squeeze you!’ and blu-tack them to the bathroom mirror, the fridge, your children’s bedroom doors, wherever you know they’ll see them every day.
8. Make something for your children. I still have a little card my mum made me with scrolled paper, and a clay hedgehog I have kept for decades. There’s something so incredibly precious about home-made gifts. Your child will know that you were thinking of them as you made the gift.
9. Practise what you preach and be a loving example. Kids are watching us all the time – especially when we’re muttering under our breath about someone who pushed in front of us in a queue. Try and model a loving acceptance in your interactions with the wider world, and where you can’t, let your kids know that you are aware of your mistakes and aim to keep trying. Kids respect the honesty of, ‘that lady made me feel really angry when she pushed in front of me, but I can see now that I’ve calmed down that she might have had things on her mind or been in a real hurry to get somewhere’.
10. Make a love potion. It could be a special smoothie or juice that everybody enjoys, such as frozen berries whizzed together with rice milk and honey – totally delicious! Instruct everyone that after they’ve drunk the love potion, they’ll go crazy with love and need lots of cuddles, squeezes and kisses for ten minutes. Cue free-for-all cuddle mania.
11. Offer to rub hands or feet in the evening. Get some gentle organic lotion and give your partner and/or children a hand or foot massage – everyone benefits from this kind of present, giving touch.
12. Find out each child’s favourite meal (if you don’t know it already) and cook it for the family every month or even fortnight.
13. Play with your kids. Get down on your hands and knees and be silly for half an hour before teatime.
14. Have a wind-down routine in the evening that includes lots of touching songs like Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. After bathing, name each part of your child’s body as you dry it, with a loving adjective e.g. your sweet knees, your nibbly elbows, your soft tummy etc.
15. Have a special day with each child. The bigger a family gets, the more a child has to vie for attention with their siblings. As Oliver James outlines in his book ‘Love Bombing: Reset Your Child’s Emotional Thermostat’, spending time with your child where they set the plan for the day and you shower them with love, affection and your full attention can have dramatic effects on behavioural problems.
16. Look after yourself. You model loving behaviour in all your interactions, especially with yourself. Children who grow up with parents who engage in ‘fat talk’ or share negative body thoughts are statistically more likely to develop their own body issues in later life. Celebrate your body and your achievements, and model healthy self-esteem to enable your children to do the same.
17. Practise NVC – Non Violent Communication. Developed by Marshall B Rosenberg, NVC focuses on three aspects of communication: self-empathy (defined as a deep and compassionate awareness of one’s own inner experience), empathy (defined as listening to another with deep compassion), and honest self-expression (defined as expressing oneself authentically in a way that is likely to inspire compassion in others). It is used as a resolution process in conflict zones and has been successfully implemented in a variety of settings, from prisons to schools. Try it as a way of communicating effectively and lovingly with all members of your family.
18. If you do lose your temper, apologise and admit your mistakes. None of us are perfect, and accepting that we make mistakes is an important part of being human. The power lies in recognising them and taking steps to resolve the situation and move on.
19. Write a love letter to each of your children, telling them all the qualities you love and admire in them. List several things you have witnessed them doing that shows these qualities e.g. ‘I loved it when you asked Mrs Green how her dog was and offered to take it for a walk, it really showed how thoughtful you are’, rather than listing high grades at school, or competitive achievements. The idea is that you are watching your children, and really notice them in their daily lives.
20. Keep a record. My sister gave me a little daily journal The Happiness Project One-Sentence Journal for Mothers when I first became a mother. It has space for recording five years’ worth of one sentence memories of family life, and includes a daily inspirational quote from author of The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin. Having memories to reflect back on enables you to share special moments with your children when they’re older and fills your heart with wonder as these special little people grow and change.