Love is an energizing, powerful force in our lives. Your teen or tween might know in their head that you love them, but how often as parents do we take time out of our day to intentionally show them? There are lots of different ways parents can show love, and it can be easier than you might think to let your teens or older kids know how much you care about them. Try one of these simple things you can do today to help your teen feel more loved.
Listen Without Jumping Into Parent Mode
Just listening - without giving some critical piece of advice - might sound counterintuitive to do as a parent, but sometimes kids just need someone to listen to them and validate their feelings, especially during the teen years. For most parents, we're quick to jump in with pointers or suggestions. While your intentions might be nothing but good, telling them what to do, or what not to do, isn't always the answer - and it doesn't always make them feel loved. If you can hold back your judgments, learn-from-my-mistakes speeches, and well-meaning parenting advice, your teen just might open up to you on a whole new level.
Listening, in fact, can function in several key ways, including giving teens a space that is uncritical, supportive, and affirming, according to adolescent psychologist Carl E. Pickhardt, Ph.D. in The Power of Parental Listening. Being vulnerable is hard, but when parents can be quiet and listen for certain periods, it can give teens a safe space to open up, share some of their emotions, and feel more loved and valued. In turn, this will create more opportunities to talk to you teen.
Find Something Positive to Say About the Things They Like
Whether it's shows your teen or older kid likes to binge-watch on Netflix, music on their playlist, clothes they wear, or even what they like to do for fun - parents and teens don't always see eye to eye. If there's nothing inherently dangerous or wrong with what they're doing, though, it can lift your teen up to find something positive in what they enjoy. Maybe it's a show or movie you don't particularly like, but you can try watching it together and talk about the main character's strengths, the unique storyline, or the stellar soundtrack.
How do parents show love when you don't love everything your teen is interested in? It can be simple. You might listen to a few songs from an artist they like, and even if you don't love the music style, maybe there's something positive you can say about the lyrics. It might just be that your kid looks great in a certain color - even if you think the outfit style leaves something to be desired. Tell them you love the color on them. It might go a long way in not only showing them you love them but can also help empower them as they learn to make decisions and decide what's right for them as they grow up.
Do Something With Your Kid That They Love to Do
There's only so much time in the day, and balancing work and family is hard. But one of the most powerful parental love examples can be taking some time to spend with your teen or tween doing something they love to do. It will show them you care about them as an individual - they'll see you're willing to and want to use your free time to spend with them - and validate what matters to them as people.
Does your teen or older kid like to shoot hoops or play golf? Spend a half hour on the court or a morning at the driving range. Are they into art or playing an instrument? Dedicate 20 minutes to sketching with them or just listening to them play. Whether it's putting a puzzle together or going on a long hike, putting yourself out there for the sake of doing something they like will help them recognize you really care.
Make or Pick Something Up Your Teen Loves to Eat or Drink
When you do your weekly meal plan, you're probably trying to make it nutritionally balanced as well as keep everyone at the dinner table at least somewhat happy. But given that there are so many different tastes and sometimes dietary needs and preferences in a single family, that task isn't always easy. In short - what you make for dinner may not always be your teen's favorite thing.
Making a point to have a meal that you know your teen loves, or even picking up one of their favorite snacks or drinks next time you're out running errands, can be a way to show them a little love. It can be something as simple as grabbing their favorite chocolate bar at the gas station or as involved as shopping for the ingredients for their favorite meal and making it from scratch. Either way, it's a relatively small thing, but it says - hey, I was thinking about you, and I love you.
Notice and Praise Them for Something Good They've Done
It's not just adults that feel unappreciated sometimes. Teens and tweens can feel that way too. That's why another idea of how parents can show love is simply by noticing something positive your teen has done today. It will show them that you're paying attention and that you notice them. Feeling heard and seen is an important part of feeling loved. Whether your teen has been good about doing their regular chores, goes out of their way to help their sibling or someone else in the family, or does even the smallest kind gesture for someone else and you've noticed it, telling them you noticed and are proud of them might make them feel pretty good. A hug doesn't hurt either.
Set (or Re-Set) Some Boundaries With Your Teen
As kids and teens grow and change, sometimes boundaries need to be set or revisited. Every family is different - some have very few rules and boundaries while others have a lot. But not having any usually doesn't help teens feel loved. If things have been feeling off lately between you and your teen, consider areas in their life where they may have too much freedom. Being firm with healthy boundaries lets them know that you care about them and their well-being - even though they may not always agree with it at first.
Talk about where you may need to change or have new boundaries. The conversation and decisions can both work towards building better parent-teen relationships and help your teen feel loved and supported. Terri Cole, psychotherapist, relationship expert, and author of the book Boundary Boss, reminds us that as parents, our role is "to guide them [teens] towards a healthy and independent adulthood." By discussing and setting boundaries, you are creating a place of mutual respect, showing your teen love, and as Cole aptly says: "Setting healthy boundaries in your family and with your children is connected to self-love, because the more efficiently and effectively you parent...the more empowered you are." Boundaries, then, are a parental love example that can be healthy and powerful for not just teens, but also the whole family.
Don't Hide Your Feelings
Parents aren't perfect and it's ok for teens and tweens to see that. It's beneficial to let your kid know that you're tired, frustrated, sad - whatever it is. And maybe you need a minute before you answer the question they're asking. Being able to express and share your feelings honestly not only tells your teen that you love and trust them enough to be vulnerable with your feelings, but it also opens the door for them to be able to do the same when they are dealing with tough emotions.
One good way to do this is to identify not only what you're feeling, but also what you need at that moment. Maybe you were frustrated by a stressful workday, and you need five minutes to lie down before you talk to anyone. Model sharing what you're feeling and what you need, and then be considerate and respectful of your teen when they need to deal with their own emotions. According to Big Feelings: Teaching Tweens and Teens to Handle Feelings, part of CNN's wellness series focused on teens, not only is it crucial for parents to model how to share their emotions, but it's important to recognize that it's ok and even necessary at times to sit in difficult emotions before dealing with them and moving past them. The series also explains that though parents might fear that labeling feelings can be negative, doing so can actually be very beneficial and help kids to self-regulate emotions.
When you're able to identify and share your feelings with your teens, it will not only be a loving way to teach them about how to deal with their own emotions but also open the door for more open and honest communication. Your kids will know your love on a deeper level when you're both able to communicate your feelings and needs honestly.
Find Something to Laugh About Together Today
Let's face it - life is hard for teens and adults alike. We spend a lot of time dealing with work, school, different expectations, and trying to do the best we can. There's a lot to be done and sometimes making things a little lighter in your relationship with your child communicates love in a way that tells them it's ok to take a break. Laughing together can build bonds that will last for a lifetime and will let them know you care enough about them that you want to see them enjoying life and having fun.
Watch something funny together, listen to a family-friendly comedian, or tell a story about a funny situation that happened that day - and invite them to do the same. Try to make up your own jokes (it can even be a contest) or fill out mad libs while you're having dinner. Taking a few minutes to add some laughter into your teen's life might not feel super sentimental, but it is a way to show them just how much you care.
Next time you find yourself annoyed with your kid, you might even try to inject a little levity. Social psychologist Susan Newman, Ph.D. shares in Parents With a Sense of Humor that not only can humor be key to social connection, but also that "humor underscores that you love your child in spite of the immediate misstep." If you add a little lightness when you're dealing with something your teen or tween has done wrong, it might just be another powerful way to show your love.
Put Down Your Phone
Teens aren't the only ones guilty of being glued to their devices. Whether it's work emails, text messages from friends or family, news, or other things that are vying for your attention on your phone or tablet, it can be really powerful to put down your phone when you talk to your teen.
It helps show them that you're willing to give them undivided attention and that what they say matters to you. If you have a chance to have a one-on-one conversation with your teen - grab it and put your phone down. Look them in the eyes while you're talking. You won't regret it.
Surprise Your Teen in a Way That Shows Your Love
Teens are all different - some like surprises and some don't, so you'll have to tailor this to your teen's personality. But doing something unexpected for your kid is a great way to show your love and that you're thinking of them. It tells them you care and that they were on your mind. It can be as simple as leaving a note to tell them what you think is great about them inside a book they're reading or one of their textbooks, or it could be something bigger like getting them a gift or taking them out to their favorite restaurant just because.
Show Your Teen Love in New Ways and Build a Better Relationship
Life gets busy; life gets hard. But you'll never regret taking some time out to just show your teen or tween that you love them. Whether it's just shutting out the stress of the world for a few minutes and finding some way to laugh together, or it's sacrificing a little bit of your time to make their favorite meal, putting in the effort to let your teen know how much they mean to you can have a powerful and positive impact on both of your lives.