As parents, we say “I love you” to our kids a lot. But you know what — talk is cheap. Our words echo hollow when our actions don’t back them up.

Declaring your love verbally is critical, but it isn’t the only thing our kids need, not by a long shot! Love looks different to each of us and how we give love and experience depends on our background and temperament. In other words, love is a subjective experience, even in childhood.

Raising successful children is not an easy road, and doing it well takes practice and courage. We ALL make tons of mistakes along the way. I was a teen parent and a single parent, so I made more mistakes than I can count.

My kids, now grown, still love to remind and chide me about mistakes I made when they were small people.

At this point, we can laugh about it, and thankfully, we communicate with each other honestly and with mutual respect. Clear, honest communication with your children is the starting point, and then all other things flow much easier.

Here are 6 things that mean way more to your kids than hearing ‘I love you:’

1. When you open up communication (and keep it open)

Listen to your kids, ask questions, and show them that you understand. Authentic listening is a lost art that needs to be revived, and there’s no better way than teaching children how to listen and be listened to. Say what you mean, mean what you say, make no idle threats or promises, be true to your word, no baby talk or talking down, no false voices — essentially, be clear and real. 

How you talk about hard things is the real issue, so words need to match experience, and difficult subjects should not be avoided. If you are crystal clear about your intentions and why you are discussing a particular topic, then you can choose your words carefully and wisely. Speak clearly and calmly, ask questions, and listen carefully. You will teach your children powerful communication skills.

2. When you make it okay to learn from mistakes

Demonstrate through your own mistakes how to learn, change, and grow. If you show your children how to recover from mistakes and make better choices, they will be more likely to talk with you honestly about themselves. You will also be letting them know that you will not reject them for making a mistake. Not only is learning from mistakes possible, but it makes us better people!

3. When you help them do their best

Teach your children to always do their best and be true to their ideas by putting your best effort into parenting them. Help them explore their ideas and thoughts even if those ideas aren’t popular or interesting to others. Sometimes this one is really painful and hard because we so badly want our children to fit in and feel included.

However, often the best lesson is learning to be different in the world and still feel good about yourself. Embrace a “give a good try” mindset in your family. Teach your kids to love learning and curiosity. It will help them to do their best always.

4. When you make sure everyone in the family is treated with respect

Be kind and considerate of others because manners will take you very far in this life. Good manners are keys that open doors. Parents need to model respect as well as expect it. As you would also treat the planet with respect by not littering, this encourages the building of empathy and teaches kids (and us) to be present to the wonder around us.

5. When you share your feelings (and let them share theirs)

Feelings come and go, whether we like the feelings or not. Allowing our children to experience emotions is important. If we teach kids to acknowledge their feelings in childhood, to discuss them as needed, and not to run away from painful emotions; we further their abilities to be emotionally healthy adults. It’s also okay to be human (albeit, age-appropriate) about sharing your own emotions. 

6. When you accept your kids for who they really

Accepting kids for who they are is more important than telling them they can be whatever they want to be. Let your kids be themselves while you love and accept them because our kids are not mini replicas of us, but unique people with their gifts and interests.

Help them to find their strengths. When we let our children discover their talents and love, then they become well-rounded people and have better coping mechanisms throughout life.

If you incorporate these 6 behaviors into your family’s daily life, you will have marvelous children, guaranteed! The key to remember is that you have to practice them, not only with your children but also with yourself. Eventually, many of us come to realize upon growing up that we need to learn to parent ourselves because we did not receive the parenting we needed as children.

There’s a poem I remember from my childhood, it used to be a poster on people’s walls, and it said, “Children Learn What They Live.”

 I remember, wishing that my parents would follow the advice of that poem, but using the advice with my children while hoping they do the same as we go onward, doing our best every step of the way, failing, succeeding, and learning to show our love the best we can