By Mary Dodd
MECC Chief Knowledge Officer
In February our thoughts turn to all the ways we can show our loved ones how much we care about them – and children need us to show our love not by buying them presents, but by giving them our full, undivided presence. “Children spell love T-I-M-E,” said Anthony Witham
And the younger the child, the more important this is. It means putting aside internal distractions, work, devices, TV shows, and your own interests so you can be fully present with your children. This isn’t something you can put off until next week or month – it happens moment by moment, day by day, throughout their childhood. As they get older you can look back with them at all the wonderful memories you’ve made together – you won’t regret it!
When you cuddle with, hold, kiss, sing, read, and talk to your baby you’re helping him feel safe and secure, learn that adults are trustworthy, develop social-emotional competence, and building his brain. When your baby cries, respond with care and attention – he’s communicating a need. Remember you can’t spoil a baby - it’s impossible. By being responsive to his needs he learns that his communications have value, that his needs will be met, that you are there for him. He’ll build on this to learn compassion and empathy for others. These social-emotional competencies are actually more important in later development than cognitive and academic skills – in fact, they are the foundations for success in school and life.
Use the daily routines of caring for your baby as opportunities to show your love – by talking with and explaining things to him – he may not understand the words but he’ll certainly get your message – “I’m important.” “I matter.” “Mommy/Daddy loves me.” As you describe routines, use a variety of words, especially those that introduce math and science concepts: “How Big? So Big!” “We’ll pull the pants up.” “One sock, one shoe, one foot.” Yes, babies need to hear many different words from birth – this builds the foundation for school success. Adapt these routines as your baby grows into toddlerhood and beyond, gradually encouraging more independence and mutual participation in household routines and chores. This is an important citizenship skill as children learn to care for themselves, their rooms, their homes, and their community environments.
One of the best ways to show your love for your children is to “share books” with them beginning in the first weeks of life and continuing well into childhood years – in other words, read to and with them. This can become a nightly activity that will last for many years, and that they’ll do with their children.
Playing with your children is another gift of love – all kinds of play including active, large motor play, constructive play in which you build things together, and imaginative play. Let your children be the boss of play – follow their lead when playing rather than telling them what to do and how to do it. Play is a time to have fun and let your inner child out. It’s not a test and it’s not competitive, at least where infants, toddlers, and young preschoolers are concerned.
The Montelores Early Childhood Council’s website has many more ideas for specific ways to show your children you love them (www.monteloresecc.org) under the Parents and Families button. Your child will only be the age he is right now in this moment – so be sure to be present for as many of those moments as possible. Remember, you are the most important person in your child’s life and the gifts of love you give them now will last a lifetime and be passed on for generations to come.
Mary Dodd is MECC’s chief knowledge officer