As part of my training to become a Montessori teacher, there was a big emphasis on building relationships with the children. When a child walked into the classroom, we would get down on their level, shake their hand and make eye contact (if they were open to this) and say something like, "I'm so happy you're here today."
This is because Montessori focuses on the whole child, including their physical and emotional well being, and also because it is much easier for a child to succeed academically if they feel comfortable and connected in the classroom.
Try these phrases and adjust them to fit your own style and family so your precious little one doesn't get lost in the shuffle:
1. "I'm happy to see you."
When I became a mom, I said this every morning in the classroom and made it a part of my morning greeting to my children each day. It can be hard not to start the day on a grumpy note when young children wake up (SO) early, but it's important to let them know that we're happy to be here with them, taking care of them, each and every day.
2. "Let's snuggle."
Maybe you set the alarm just five minutes earlier every day and build in a little snuggle time when you wake your child up for school. Or maybe that sounds horrible and you opt for a Saturday morning weekly family snuggle party instead.
Whatever works best for your family, find a way to include regular opportunities to relax and snuggle together even as your child gets older. Some children need more physical affection than others, so make sure to follow your child's lead.
3. "I love that you are so generous."
One part of my Montessori training that really stuck with me is acknowledging "qualities of greatness." This is a strategy that can be particularly effective with a child who seeks negative attention. Catch them when they are doing something right, no matter how small it is, and make a big deal about it.
Does your child always take toys from their younger sibling, but then you catch them in the act of sharing a favorite book? Let them know that you see it. Say something like "I love seeing you be so generous with your sister! You are a really giving person."
This lets our children know that we see them as good people, and it also helps shape their perception of themselves.
You can extrapolate a quality of greatness from almost anything.
Your child put their own shoes on? "I love that you're so independent!"
They picked up their Legos without you asking? "You sure are conscientious!"
Find a way to give them a meaningful compliment and it will stick with them.
4. "Do you want to know one of my favorite things about you?"
Especially if you have more than one child, it's important to let them know that you love them for who they are, uniquely. The more specific the compliment you offer them, the more it will mean to them.
"You're a good boy" doesn't really mean much but "I love that you take good care of your things" is specific enough to matter.
5. "Come sit with me."
Sometimes affection looks like a big bear hug and kind words and sometimes it's simply a quiet moment together. Especially for young children, it's not always clear what their love language is, but quality time together is always important to our children.
It's easy to put a lot of pressure on yourself and think "quality time" has to be a special one on one date to an unforgettable place, but it can be as simple as a few cozy minutes together on the couch.
6. "Is there anything you want to chat about?"
I often ask my 3-year-old this at bedtime (well really after bedtime, when he's called me back into his room for "one last song"). He usually doesn't come up with anything in particular at this point, but it's important to me that he knows I'm there to listen.
I imagine that one day he'll surprise me with an answer that gives me a little window into his heart, but even if he doesn't, what matters is that he knows he can talk to me and that I always have time for him.
7. "You give the best hugs."
One day when I was in my Montessori classroom, a little 3-year-old girl walked up to me and randomly gave me a hug. As she walked away I heard her to say to herself, "I give the best hugs," and it brought the biggest smile to my face.
I am sure her parents tell her this all the time. There is a big difference between "Do you need a hug?" (which is also a great thing to say) and "You give the best hugs!"
8. "Did you get my note?"
I'm not entirely sure why, but one of my earliest and most clear memories from my young childhood is of receiving notes in my lunchbox at daycare from my mom. I couldn't even read yet, but it meant the world to me to have a little note from my mom in the middle of the day.
It doesn't need to be every day, but writing little love notes to your child lets them know you're thinking about them.
9. "What would you like to do together?"
Try letting your child lead the way in choosing what to do with your quality time on occasion. Even if it's only for 30 minutes, they will get the idea that you want to spend time with them doing what they want to do. Showing interest in your child's hobbies, even if you have little interest in them yourself, pays off over time because you learn so much about what your child is thinking and feeling through watching them play.
10. "I love you no matter what."
It's easy to show your child that you love them when they're being fun and adorable, but it's a bit harder when they're getting in trouble at school or yelling at you. Even, and especially, amidst the tantrums and notes from the teacher, make sure to let them know that your love for them is unconditional.
At the end of the day, you have to find a way to show your love that feels natural to you. Experiment with different types of affection and you will be able to tell what resonates the most with your child.
Maybe you're a snuggler and they're not, maybe you're not big on compliments but they crave your words of affirmation. That's okay. Just becoming a little more aware of how you show your affection will help you make sure your child is really feeling the love you send them each day.