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Everyone always tells you that your kids' childhood goes by in a flash -- even though it never seems that way when you're changing a poopy diaper at 3:00 a.m. or knee-deep in Legos. But just when you think you'll have an infant glued to your hip forever, suddenly you have a toddler on the run, a preschooler who can do it all by himself, a kindergartner who only wants to snuggle at bedtime or a grade schooler who so doesn't need you to walk her to the school's front door. That's why it helps if you soak up a few extra moments of sweetness while you can. Here, 15 easy ways to cherish your kids.
Be a kid again. When you set your kid up with a craft project, it's your job to make sure she doesn't eat the finger paint or try to put sequins up her nose. But every so often, roll up your sleeves and join her in the sticky, messy fun. Being on the ground together, making a pizza out of Play-Doh or building a robot out of popsicle sticks, gives you a unique glimpse into her budding creative process and lets you two connect in a whole new way. More importantly, it lets you really be present. (And did we mention it's fun?)
See things from your kid's point of view. What does the world look like to your kids? Hand over your smartphone (or a disposable camera if you don't trust them with your iPhone) and find out. Ask them to snap pictures of whatever catches their eye, and when the photo session is done, flip through the pictures together and ask them to tell you what they found so interesting. Their answers might surprise you.
Write them a note. Whether it's a goofy knock-knock joke in her lunchbox or a top 10 list of things you love about her taped to the bathroom mirror, giving your child a handwritten note is a sweet way to show her you care. And in this day and age, when it's so easy to get away from actually writing things down on paper, it just may become an unexpected keepsake.
Have coffee with your kid. Few activities mean more to your kid than uninterrupted, one-on-one time with Mom or Dad. Whether you've got time for an afterschool bike ride together during the week or carve out time on the weekend (with you and your hubs each taking a child alone for some special time), it's an investment worth making. Even a quick, 15-minute trip to get coffee (for you) and hot cocoa (for him) in the morning can have a resoundingly positive effect on your kid.
Ask them for a daily recap. It's easy to think that your kids don't want to dish about their day, but you might be surprised if you simply pose the question a different way. Ask your child to share the best and worst parts of her day and consider having everyone in the family do the same. Discussing the lows as well as the highs teaches your child that talking about a problem can help you feel better. And seeing you share your own challenges can nurture their coping skills as well.
Put your kids in charge. Declare an evening Kids' Night, where you and your partner treat the kiddos to a few fun-filled hours of their own design. Maybe you go out to their favorite restaurant (a treat for you, too, since someone else does the cooking and cleaning), or keep it simply by ordering a pizza and cuddling up on the sofa to watch a movie together. The point is to spend time together as a family and let your kids call the shots.
Play hooky. Gold stars are great, but if you really want to reward your kid for a job well done at school, let her skip a day of classes when there's nothing too important going on -- or even just that afterschool piano lesson -- and spend it with you instead. Treat her to lunch at her favorite spot and let her decide what you do afterward.
Write down what they say. Kids say the funniest things, but even the best stuff can be forgotten over time. The solution? Jot down those hilarious one-liners in a journal, a scrapbook -- or even just email them to yourself for posterity. When they're a little older, you can read your favorites aloud to your child. Writing down an entry may take a few extra minutes, but cracking up together over silly stories later makes it all worthwhile.
Do something spontaneous. Whether it's letting them put on their rain boots and jump in mud puddles, going out to lunch on a random Tuesday or making a spur-of-the-moment detour to get ice cream, surprise your kid every now and then. Chances are he'll still be talking about it months later.
Take measure of your kids. A lot can happen in a year, especially when you're young. Keep track of his progress by conducting an "interview" every year on his birthday. Record vital stats like age, height, favorite color, his best friend's name and his dream job, and ask him to pose for a picture (or take a selfie, if he's old enough). Read over what you wrote in previous years and marvel at how much he's changed and grown.
Start a family tradition. Decorate her door with streamers and balloons on her birthday every year, or bake (together) the same family-favorite dessert for every special occasion, or head to the farmer's market every Saturday -- it doesn't have to be complicated or fancy to become a meaningful family ritual that your kids will look forward to. (And maybe even try to recreate with their own families some day!)
Give him piggyback rides. Yes, he's perfectly capable of walking. But someday, Mama, he'll be too big for you to carry -- on your shoulders, in your arms or attached, koala-like, to your leg -- and you'll miss having that little monkey on your back.
Have a sleepover with your kid. Even if you already spend your nights with your kids sleeping next to you (or trying to get your kids back into their own beds), plan ahead to spend a night in their room. Whether you climb into the top bunk or throw sleeping bags on the floor, your kids will always remember the novelty of it all.
Kiss them. A lot. Never underestimate the power of a smooch or two. Now, while they'll still let you, pepper your love nuggets with lots of butterfly kisses, Eskimo kisses and super-tickly raspberries. Repeat often.
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