At a time when many parents (including myself) are figuring out what gifts they can and should buy their children, I realized the best gifts are the ones that last a lifetime and don’t cost a penny. They do require a lot of work, persistence and sometimes, frustration, because as parents, we all learn as we go. I hope I am able to always give these gifts to my kids.
- The gift of your time. Yes, quality is important, but simply being there for your child is a necessity. Even when they grow up and seem to not need you much, there will always be times in which just knowing you are there might help them navigate the complicated preteen and teen years. Give them real time, face to face, with no electronics, and make a point of stopping whatever you are doing if your kid wants to talk or needs you. If you have more than one child, it’s important to have even a few minutes alone with each one every day.
- The gift of listening. We often talk to our kids instead of speaking with That means we don’t listen enough. As they get older, resist the temptation to lecture or to give them the third degree. Nobody wants to field an interrogation, but it does feel good to know that somebody cares enough to ask you how your day went. Also take a minute to listen between the lines. Is your child angry or frustrated? Is she sad? Does he sound excited? Use that to have a conversation instead of a Q&A session.
- The gift of not judging. When you begin listening to your child, try to refrain from judging, not only his or her decisions, but whatever they tell you about their friends. At the very least, try to keep strong reactions to yourself. Teens and tweens often complain that they cannot share anything with their parents because they don’t understand what they are going through and are too quick to criticize. So even if you are not happy with what you’re hearing, concentrate on just letting your kid talk so that way you can know what’s really going on.
- The gift of trust. Trust is not built from one day to the next, but rather over time. As your child grows, you need to trust him or her to begin making decisions away from you. Even when he or she might make mistakes, focus on empowering your child to correct those errors, own up to them and learn from those experiences. Allow your child to work things out. Hovering over, micromanaging and controlling your kid will not allow him or her to build resilience or develop much-needed skills. Trusting your child will also make their self-confidence grow.
- The gift of unconditional love. This is a phrase that has been overused but not really understood enough. Your child needs to realize that your love does not come with strings attached, even if it means that you might not agree with his or her choices. Our kids need to know that our love doesn’t depend on grades, sports achievements, popularity, physical appearance or pleasing us. We might be happier when they meet or exceed our expectations, but our children should not feel that we will love them less when they fall short.
What do you think is the most important gift you can give your children?