I don’t think there’s a parent who hasn’t wondered (probably more than once) whether they’re messing up their kids’ mental health and ruining their lives. Most of us learned what we know about being parents from our own parents, and I’m sure yours grappled with the same doubts.

We try our best and get frustrated with ourselves when we fall short of our image of ideal parents. The good news, though, is that there are a lot of little things we can do that will help our children grow into healthy, well-adjusted adults. They’re sometimes described as the five love languages of children.

Words of affirmation
When you compliment and express appreciation for your children, you help them develop healthy self-esteem. You can support them in many ways, whether it’s slipping a note of praise in their lunch or complimenting them in front of other people. Even if they seem a little embarrassed, your words help them feel better.

Make quality time
We’re all busy, but making time when they can have your undivided attention goes a long way. From conversations, to playing a favorite board game, to bike riding, to having a special “date night” where they choose the restaurant and the activity lets them know they truly are special to you.

Acts of service
Asking kids to clean their room builds responsibility. Helping them do it shows them the power of serving others. All of the things you do to help your kids — from making meals, to helping with their homework, to tucking them in — make them feel loved.

Give gifts
Gifts don’t have to be expensive presents. Most often, small things that are meaningful will have a bigger impact than things that are costly. Cook their favorite meal, give them a small surprise on an ordinary day, send them a letter when you’re away, or hand them a bunch of flowers or a pretty rock. Gifts like these say I thought about you and I love you.

Physical touch
Kids outgrow being held, but they still find love and calming in your touch. Comb their hair, scratch their back, cuddle with them, hug them for no good reason, and hold their hands when you walk together. Touch reduces stress and strengthens relationships.

If you’re still convinced you’re ruining your son or daughter’s life, maybe it would be a good idea to sit down with one of our professional counselors. We’ll help you find your strengths as a parent and work on the areas that make you uneasy.

Jean Crane is one of Care to Change’s therapists. She has helped women and young adults cope with issues related to depression, anxiety, stress and trauma for over 20 years.

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