It’s been a busy week. Between my work, writing, and community obligations, I feel as if I have barely seen my children. I never intended to be that kind of Mom, and I’m not happy about missing out on family time. It was just that kind of week.

We all have times like that. Life happens. Crises happen. Sometimes, as much as we love our children, we don’t get to spend a whole lot of time with them. And that’s when the essential four come into play. The primary four are the things we absolutely must give our kids. Whether we spend five hours a day with them, or five minutes. Somehow, someway the essential four need to be crammed into whatever amount of times we have with our kids.

1. Touch your child. Children of all ages need to be touched. Infants need a whole lot of touch. The older the child, the less touch they tend to need. But everyone, even a surly teen, needs an affirmation of love in the form of a pat on the back, an almost subtle nudge, or a spontaneous hug.

2. Tell your child the truth. You need to tell your child the truth. One of the most heartbreaking things I have ever had to witness was a phone conversation between a father and his seven-year-old son. “I’m going to come visit you today.” The Dad said. “Maybe later. Maybe soon.” I watched a light of excitement glow in the boy’s eyes, and I felt like I was going to vomit. I knew this little child’s hopes were about to be painfully shattered because his father was not telling him the truth. He was not coming to see him. Not today, and not tomorrow. He was in jail.

Parents, even if the truth hurts, tell it. You cannot build a child on a frame of lies. Eventually, the child will grow to understand that you have been lying, and you will have drastically eroded his faith in all humankind. After all, if he cannot trust his parent, why would he be able to trust anyone at all?

3. Listen to your child. Every human being needs to be listened to and understood. Without that, life is very, very painful. As a parent, you may be the only person who is willing to listen to your child. And it’s your responsibility to do just that. Real listening involves a lot more than just hearing the words someone is saying. When you are listening, you attend to the person’s facial cues and body language. You listen to what they are not saying as much as what they are saying. You are thinking about the words they say in the context of all the other things you know about that individual. You are listening, not to instruct, advise, condemn, or congratulate. You are listening to understand.

4. Praise your child. Notice something good your child has done and tell him or her about it. This does not need to be lavish praise. It does need to be authentic. Like the need to tell your child the truth, your praise must also have a ring of truth, or it will ring hollow.

By Chaya Glatt