Often, when I'm writing about my experiences as a mom, I have to turn to my own four-year-old daughter for advice. I'll ask her about how bad she felt when she had croup, or how she thinks public school compares to Montessori school, or what she thinks of a recently purchased children's book. So she wasn't surprised when I asked her for help with another article: "Sweetie, what's the fastest, easiest way to get you to feel happy when you're sad or angry?"
"Love me," she said quickly, before I was even done asking the question. I was having a hard time determining if my best calm-down tip lay in Eskimo kisses, tight hugs, warm snuggles, or sudden tickles. But with her answer, my daughter let me know that the best way to cheer her up is in all of these things-and in none of them. "The best way to make a kid feel happy when she's sad," my daughter explained slowly (if a bit patronizingly), "Is to give her some love." She hesitated for a second and then added, "I think it's even better than cupcakes."
There are as many ways to show love as there are parents. Some parents sing a favorite song, or share a favorite memory, or hold their kids tightly, or bring out the Tickle Monster. The funny thing about these little calm-down tips is that none of them work universally for every family. I used to cheer up quickly if my mother announced melodramatically, "The world's over and we're all going to die!" when I was getting upset about something silly, but I know this trick would only upset my daughter (who takes things very literally) if I used it on her. Similarly, while my daughter perks up any time I tickle her and call her a silly-goose, her best friend thought this trick was infuriating. Of course, I realized, going through my whole toolbox of calm-down tips: the way that you express love to your kids isn't what matters. It's taking the time to express it.
So, when your little one's having a tantrum over a spilled cup of juice, or your fourth-grader is upset because he can't quite figure out long division, or your tween is in a tizzy because she's distraught by a bad haircut, I can't tell you one single trick that will make her happier. I can tell you that any expression of love, filtered through the unique way that you love your child, can bring joy into the heart of a hurting child. The quickest, easiest way to soothe a child who is upset isn't specifically in kissing, hugging, telling a joke, or handing her a cookie-it's in doing what you, as an individual part, do to express love.
What do you do to show your kids you love them when they're upset-and does it work?
Juniper Russo is a freelance writer and Shine Parenting Guru. When she's not busy keeping up with her wonderfully eccentric four-year-old daughter, she writes about a diverse array of topics including health, pets, parenting, and activism.