“You matter to me.”
It’s a simple sentiment with the power to encourage, uplift, and inspire. So why don’t we remember to say or show it more?
Luckily, letting our kids know how much they matter doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. In just a few thoughtful minutes a day, we can show our children how much they mean to us and the world.
Here are eight of my favorite ways:
There is a reason we say the eyes are a window to the soul. Our eyes serve as the mirrors upon which our children’s sense of self is constructed.
In the movie Avatar, the Na’vi greeted one another with the phrase “I see you.” It is a clear acknowledgment that everyone we meet has something worth noticing and appreciating.
We can let our children know we see them and recognize their presence in our lives by intentionally putting the word “you” at the heart of our sentences. I will use my daughter Abigail to demonstrate the power of these statements.
- I see you, Abigail.
- Abigail, I understand you.
- I appreciate you, Abigail.
- Abigail, it was great to spend time with you.
- I couldn’t have done it without you, Abigail.
- Abigail, you made my day.
- Abigail, I am so blessed to have you as my daughter.
Children deserve to be fully seen by our accepting eyes, and we should acknowledge that their presence, thoughts, and words are valuable to us.
“More and more I’ve come to understand that listening is one of the most important things we can do for one another. Whether the other be an adult or a child, our engagement in listening to who that person is can often be our greatest gift. Whether that person is speaking or playing or dancing, building or singing or painting, if we care, we can listen.” —Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers
As parents, it’s much easier to talk than to listen, but listening more is exactly what our children need us to do.
Listening earnestly means more than quietly nodding your head while waiting for our turn to speak again. It means opening both our ears and heart wide enough to make our children the sole focus of our attention. In doing that, being listened to is so close to being loved that we cannot tell the difference.
Here’s what it looks and sounds like:
- Summarizing your understanding of what was just said
- Reframing what you have just heard
- Letting them know you understand what they said
- Appreciating without judgement
- Being fully present and accepting what is being said
When children are truly heard, it helps them unfold and expand to their fuller selves. Our kids have much to say. If we listen eagerly and earnestly to the small stuff, they are more likely to come to us with the big stuff.
Ask Questions that Show They Matter
If eyes are the window to the soul, questions are the window to our minds and intentions. We show our children how much they matter to us by the kinds of questions we ask them.
Here are some of my favorite questions to ask someone who matters:
- What rocked your world today?
- Who’s world did you rock today?
- How can I make your day?
- What can we do to make it better?
- What was the best moment of your day?
- What was the hardest part of the day?
- What made you smile?
- What are you most proud of?
- What did someone do today to make you happy?
- What did you do to make someone else happy?
- What would make tomorrow better?
Here is another great list of thoughtful questions to encourage and help your child develop a healthy mindset and sense of self as well as help you strengthen and deepen your bond with them.
Be Fully Present
We are busy people. I understand how easy it is to get lost in the hustle and bustle of the day-to-day. But what our kids wish for—and need most—is our presence. They want our eyes to watch them as they play. They want our ears to listen to their stories. They want our words to encourage them and tell them how wonderful and amazing they are. They want our hands to hold them and play with them.
I know we can’t do this every moment of their lives, so we must pick our moments carefully. Fortunately, science can help.
There are key times during the day that have the most impact on a child:
- The first three minutes after they awake from their slumber
- The first three minutes after they arrive home from school or daycare
- The last three minutes of the day before they head off to sleep
Every day is not going to be perfect, of course, and the good news is it doesn’t have to be. Kids don’t need or expect perfection, they just need our presence.
Embrace Them With Love—and Hugs!
Touch creates a physical, emotional, and spiritual connection that is critical at all stages of life.
Even a short 10- to 20-second hug along with a few minutes of hand-holding can reduce the physical and emotional effects of stress. Doing these things also lowers levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and increases our levels of dopamine. But research suggests there’s even more to it than that.
Touch not only makes us happier, it actually improves self confidence, overall performance, and our sense of overall worth. And for your kids who are just not into hugs and kisses–remember it’s more about the connection than an actual hug. These things can matter just as much:
- A high five
- A fist bump
- A pat on the back
- A wink
- An extra squeeze
- A simple smile just for them
Give Them a Front Row Seat to Their Own Brilliance
“See, all you really need is one person to show you the epiphany of your own power, and you’re off. If you can hand people the key to their own power—the human spirit is so receptive—if you open doors for people at a crucial moment, you are educating them in the best sense. You are teaching them to open doors for themselves.” —Aimee Mullins, “The Opportunity of Adversity,” TEDMED 2009.
Most people don’t realize how extraordinary they are, and our little people are no exception. In fact, many of us require permission to bring our brilliance to the table. Giving people a front row seat to their own brilliance often is a matter of looking them in the eye and saying:
“I believe in you. I believe in your abilities. And I know that you carry something amazing with you that’s yours and yours alone, so, I invite you to bring it stage center and set the world on fire.” —Author Unknown
When we believe in our children and encourage them to believe in themselves, we hand them the key to their own power. We help them stretch their thinking, envision success, and open the door to their true potential.
Be their permission slip!
Sweat the Small Stuff
My grandmother always said, “Do small things with great love, and big things are sure to come.”
Here are a few little things matter to little people—to all people, in fact:
- A friendly smile
- A note or praise
- A text or quick call just to say, “Hi!”
- A look that conveys we are going to be okay
Small things mean a lot. I created Mattergrams to share the message of Mattering with those we love with a shared language of hope, compassion, empathy, and possibility through the words we use. Mattering is a commitment to contributing your best self to the world, offering everything that you have and are to the world, with a sense of confidence, conviction, and courage.
Mattergrams are simple personalized messages to let the people we love know we are thinking of them and that they matter—not just to us, but to the world. It’s the easiest and most impactful way to let our children know they are seen, heard, cherished, recognized, and valued.
Be a Role Model
Helping others know the importance of Mattering is a choice.
Our children are watching and looking for clues about how to act and behave and who to become. From learning to manage their feelings and emotions to finding their way along the journey of becoming who they are, we are their go-to person for insight and inspiration.
For example, be a role model and make the choice every day to offer, thank, encourage, inspire, and let your own mother know you notice and believe in her. It could be—and often will be—the most powerful thing you do all day.
It is critical we model the daily practice of worthiness in our own lives as well. We choose to matter when we do the following:
- Try new things
- Acknowledge our hard work
- Celebrate our successes
- Acknowledge but not dwell in our failures
- Share the struggleDemonstrate perseverance and spirit
- Rise up and start each day anew
The way we live our lives is the greatest predictor of how our children will engage with the world. Let’s give them something worthy to see.
By Angela Maiers, named by Forbes as one of the Top 5 Edupreneurs to Watch; by IBM as one of the Top 20 Global Influencers, among the Top 100 Women in Technology by Onalytics, and among the Top 20 Education Thought Leaders by TrustEd. She is the author of 9 books on education, including the noted Genius Matters and Classroom Habitudes, and was for many years a prolific contributor to the Huffington Post on innovation, technology, and education.