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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.