Parenthood is the ultimate juggling act, and at no time is that more clear than when you're trying to spread your time and attention among your children. Striking this delicate balance involves satisfying the needs of each kid while at the same making sure no one feels left out.
It's a worthwhile endeavor. Helping your child feel loved and special apart from his siblings can mold his identity and set him up for a healthy sense of self-worth and self-esteem in the future. On the flip side, kids who don't feel that special attachment with their parents may act out later in life, points out Laura Kauffman, Ph.D., a licensed child psychologist in Menlo Park, California. "These children are less likely to follow the rules of the household, and they are likely to vie for their parent's attention in less positive ways, including picking fights with siblings or acting out at school," she says.
Ultimately, "our goal [as parents] is to convey unconditional love through focused attention with clear limits and boundaries that will allow them to tolerate the inevitable breaks in our attention," Dr. Kauffman adds. The balance will help them understand that there will be times when they can have your full attention—and times when they won't.
Tricky? Yes, but doable. Here are six simple but powerful ways to make each of your children feel like a VIP.
Make eye contact. We may believe we can listen to what our kid is saying while we dash off a work e-mail, but in reality, dividing your attention can make your child feel like you're placing her second. So the next time she wants to talk to you, put down what you're doing and give your child your full eye contact and complete attention. Ask a question or two that shows you're truly listening and are present. If you can't drop what you're doing at that moment, say so. Ask your child to give you a moment to wrap up your task, then be sure to follow up with her, Dr. Kauffman says.
Ask caring questions. Go beyond the generic "How was school?" conversation and instead ask your kids pointed questions that show you're invested in what's going on in their lives, Dr. Kauffman says. For example, ask them about their spelling test or what happened on their favorite TV show.
Create meaningful traditions. No need to construct anything elaborate; this is really about spending quality, one-on-one time together and creating lasting memories. Get in the kitchen with your child and make a pancake breakfast for the family on Sundays. Set a monthly date where you treat your kid to a favorite treat and an hour at the playground. Invite your child to accompany you to your standing salon appointment, and stay for mani-pedis afterward. Such simple traditions can go a long way toward building that special parent-child connection.
Be affectionate. A kiss on the cheek, a bear hug before bedtime—showing your affection makes kids feel loved. Not a "hugging" family? Create your own special handshake or come up with a fun code word with each kid.
Love what they love. Sure, you're probably not as excited about the newest collection of Shopkins as they are, but loving what your kids love is a great way to show they're important to you. Listen with enthusiasm as they explain the inner workings of their Lego castle, and make yourself available to help foster their hobby. Dr. Kauffman says sharing in your children's passions not only helps them feel supported, it also allows them to "feel they are important enough to dedicate your valuable time to them."