Ways to Tell Your Special Needs Child "I Love You"

A same-sex couple is cooking with their kid.
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There's nothing wrong with saying those three little words every day to your child, over and over again. But many children with special needs are unable to respond to that loving message the way we'd like; they may be puzzled by emotions, uncomfortable with hugs, unable to process anything but the most concrete language.

Then, too, siblings of special-needs kids may value your time and attention more than your words if they're feeling underappreciated. Sometimes you can get your message through in a more sincere and meaningful way if you show rather than tell, or find fun and disarming ways to sneak your feelings in. Here are ways to start.

  • Spend a little time each day playing entirely at your child's direction.
  • Cook something together.
  • Cuddle up under a blanket and watch what he or she wants to watch on TV.
  • Give a chocolate kiss along with a real one.
  • Exchange butterfly kisses or nose-to-nose Eskimo kisses.
  • Find something about your child's appearance to compliment.
  • Find something about your child's music to compliment.
  • Do one of your child's chores for him or her.
  • Run fingers through hair.
  • Make your child into a burrito.
  • Read books about family love, like I Love You, Good Night; On Mother's Lap; Guess How Much I Love You; or If You Were My Bunny.
  • Send an encouraging note with your child's lunch.
  • Pick out candy conversation hearts with appropriate messages and present them to your child.
  • Talk in the car on the way to school instead of listening to the radio.
  • Give a foot massage.
  • Take a long walk together, at your child's pace.
  • Read the funny pages together.
  • Find a video game you can play together.
  • Do a jigsaw puzzle together.
  • Use magnetic letters to put loving messages on the fridge.
  • Make customized word games with loving messages.
  • Take pictures of facial expressions showing different emotions, and tape one of you showing "love" over your child's bed.
  • Send your child a card in the mail, with stickers or a treat inside.
  • Stick an encouraging note on your child's mirror as she sleeps.
  • Set aside a little time each day, maybe before bedtime, to talk about what's going on in your child's life, judgment-free. If your child doesn't like to talk, say "Tell me three things that happened today." If it helps, tell three things that happened to you in return.
  • Find a board game you both enjoy and schedule regular tournaments.
  • If you use a point system for rewards, give bonus points just for being a great kid.
  • Develop a secret word or gesture that only the two of you know the meaning of.
  • Kids who don't like to be hugged may be okay with sitting on your lap and being held from behind, particularly if they're watching TV or reading.
  • Take your child out to lunch every now and then, just the two of you.
  • Play hide and seek with your child, and while you're searching talk very loudly about how sad you will be if you can't find him or her. Then be very happy when you're reunited.​
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