The Basics

1. The Basics
We must communicate to our children every day that they are loved, says Sandra Magsamen , an expert on living your life with heart. But, sometimes words alone are not enough to express what we most want to say. Here are some ways Sandra says you can make lasting bonds with your children that will last a lifetime.

Start with the basics. Hug! Never stop hugging your child. A hug connects physically and emotionally like nothing else. You should also read lots of books to your children. Put time aside each day to look at, read and share stories. You can read the same ones over and over again.

Dance, sway and move as you hold your child and provide the comfort and connection that gentle rocking and movement brings. Get down on the floor and play, make puzzles, finger paint, roll around and laugh together. And tell them you love them, that they are special, that they are unique and that they are a gift.
Sing Out Loud

2. Sing Out Loud
Find your song and sing it. Don't worry if you don't have the pipes of Aretha, just sing and I promise your child will love it. Find "your song," the song you love to sing to your child. It will soothe them—and you—on those days where everything seems to be going wrong.

The power of love and song can be seen in the ritual of an East African tribe that begins communicating what they feel in their hearts even before a child is conceived. When a mother wants a baby, she goes off alone and listens soulfully until she can "hear" the song of the one she hopes will be born. Then she returns to the village, and she and her husband, the father-to-be, sing the song together as the child is conceived. As she carries the baby inside her, she teaches the song to the village women and midwives, who will welcome the new soul into the world at birth by singing the baby's song. Throughout the person's life, at times of ceremony, joy or sadness, the song is sung and it is the final refrain after death, as the body is laid to rest. From the beginning to the end of the soul's incarnation, the tribe communicates the message that the individual is treasured and loved.
I'm Sending You My Love

3. I'm Sending You My Love
Write your child a letter soon after they are born. Fill it with your thoughts, hopes, dreams and the experience of bringing a new life into the world. Place your note in an envelope and inscribe, "On the day you were born" on it, and tuck it in a journaling-type book. Each year on your child's birthday, write another letter to her—fill it with the memories, milestones, dreams, events, ideas and the life that you and your family have created throughout the year. When your child grows up and has a place of his or her own, present the book and continue to send the letters on your child's birthday. You will have written a book and told the story of two very special people: you and your child.

If we are really lucky, we have a lifetime with our children to help them grow and teach them and to love them. Sadly, some do not get that chance, but this story shares how we can touch a life in positive, deep ways, even if we are no longer here…

A mother dying of cancer gave a gift to her 7-year-old daughter. She took the time to map out and script letters for all of the future milestones she envisioned missing in her daughter's life—birthdays, graduations, her wedding day and the birth of her children. The idea was that her writings would be given to her daughter throughout her life from the most special woman in her life: her mother. Although she was about to physically say goodbye, this devoted mom was ensuring that she'd continue to live in her daughter's life through these precious expressions of love.
A Good Morning

4. A Good Morning
In soap or lipstick, write, "You're the best!" or "Have a great day!" on the bathroom mirror where your child will see it when brushing his or her teeth. And at breakfast, try spelling out, "I love you" with individual letters from alphabet cereal. Of course, you will have to pick through the box to find eight letters, but the message will then have your personal touch. Surprise your son with his favorite cookies in his lunch box—the sugary ones that he regularly begs for in the grocery aisle, but rarely receives.

Or reach for a banana, like my friend did to keep connected to her boys. "During elementary school, I'd pack their lunches every day and I'd always put a banana in each bag. One day I started writing little notes—jokes and riddles on the banana peel with a permanent pen. The boys loved it and looked forward to their lunchtime surprise. I loved it, too, knowing that as I was thinking about them at lunchtime, they would be thinking of me. Of course, by middle school, they asked me to stop sending notes on their bananas. They were 'too old.' The boys really did get a kick out of it!"

If bananas aren't your thing, simply write a note, a riddle or cut a comic that your child loves from the newspaper. Your child will enjoy getting that extra-special something from you and all his or her classmates will be waiting each day to see what's next.
Smile, It's Your Birthday

5. Smile, It's Your Birthday
Every year on your child's birthday, take their picture while they hold a sign with the number of how old they are. Find a book or a place in your home to display these wonderful reminders of your child's growth. I recently heard from a 49-year-old man whose mom had done this all his life. Sadly, she had just passed away, but he decided to continue taking pictures to keep the tradition going as a way to honor his mother.
Walk the Dog

6. Walk the Dog
I know a woman who was tired of feeling rushed and frazzled in the mornings. She'd hurriedly walk her four sweet dogs, and then rush back to make sure her 9-year-old son had eaten breakfast. Then she'd race off to drive him to school, but get caught waiting in traffic lines. Then, she got creative. She decided to combine her two activities by walking her son to school with the four dogs in tow. All seven of them—she and her husband, one child and four dogs—became a "walking party." Each morning, they began a lively, new adventure. Cars slowed to view their parade, and they often saw tired-looking commuters glance over in surprise, then break out in wide grins and wave enthusiastically. Once in a while, someone would honk in appreciation.

Kids at the elementary school really loved seeing the family arrive at the drop-off area. After just a few weeks, as many as 40 children would be at the front gate for the arrival of their new furry friends—always telling the family about their own dog companions, waiting for them back at home. It was like a traveling petting zoo. The boy stopped hating mornings (so did his mother) and started looking forward to school. Even the dogs appeared to walk with a newfound pride and purpose.

Imagine the possibilities when creative thinking becomes a part of everything you do. Remember, the only rule is that there are no rules.
Share What Matters

7. Share What Matters
There is no end to the ways in which we can share what's in our hearts. Teach your children at a young age that what they think matters. This is a short and sweet example of a family that created a book for a special celebration. Their beautiful book, Love is, was made to celebrate a 45th wedding anniversary. The children and grandchildren of the love birds each thoughtfully described the lessons they'd learned about love from their mother and father (or grandmother and grandfather). Lessons like: "Love is: Even when Grandpa forgets to pick up Grandma at the hairdressers, she still loves him." And, "Love is: "When Dad sat up all night when Mom got the flu, just to be sure she didn't need anything." And, "Love is: When Grandma lets the dog up on the sofa and lets her lick out of the ice cream bowl, and Grandpa doesn't get mad." And, "Love is: When Mom tells Dad that her favorite room in the house is the one he is in." And, my personal favorite, "Love is: When Grandpa calls Grandma Sweat Pea."
Celebrate every step of the way.

8. Celebrate the Firsts, the Lasts and Everything in Between
Every September, sure as clockwork, summer comes to an end and the first morning of school arrives. Lazy days, swimming pools, flip-flops and vacations are exchanged for alarm clocks, book bags, school buses and schedules. In my house, we have a love/hate relationship with the beginning of school. We hate to see summer come to a close, but we love to start a new year, filled with possibilities and friendships.

The moment our daughter started school, we started a tradition. Dressed in her finest first-day outfit, Hannah is photographed with her book bag and gear. She is now in the 12th grade and we have 13 priceless photos (starting with kindergarten) of our baby as she has grown into a young woman. I wish I could say that I started organizing these memories into a photo album 13 years ago, but I did not. Until recently, the images were scattered among hundreds (honestly, thousands) of pictures that I, like many others, kept in shoeboxes. When I started searching to recover all 13 images, I was grateful to discover that some magically appeared in frames behind other pictures, while others rested patiently in their boxes. Excavating them was a wonderful journey through our life, and I was reminded of the people and events that have made it so special. Each of Hannah's pictures reflects a step in her life. The other photographs showed me the road we'd all taken together.
Other Ways to Stay Connected

9. Other Ways to Stay Connected
  • Make Friday nights game night—relax together with pizza, some healthy snacks and competition. Invite your children's best friends to join you.
  • Make a family history book using favorite words, photos and souvenirs.
  • I love a good game of black out: Turn off every light in the house (including night-lights and VCR lights) and play hide-and-seek. Prepare to have a blast tripping all over each other and even getting spooked a time or two.
  • Plant a garden with butterfly bushes and enjoy the visits of hundreds of butterflies.
  • Create a revolving art gallery of your kid's work in your home. Show them you think their art is a masterpiece. String wire between two hooks and hang the art with clothespins
  • Turn off the TV and put on your own plays and musicals, and share stories.
  • Turn on the soothing sounds of jazz and watch your family relax. Make a CD of your family's favorite tunes to be played on long car rides or rainy Sunday afternoons.
  • Create new everyday rituals: warm vanilla milk, a story or a kiss on the forehead before bedtime—special touches that will help your child drift off to a peaceful sleep.
  • Plant a garden together, and then watch as the seeds grow.
  • Make a video of your grandparents. Interview them about their lives and ask the funny questions that will brighten their faces and make them laugh. This project will become a cherished family heirloom.


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