As parents, the phrase “I love you” probably comes out of our mouths more than any other—although “be careful” and “stop bugging your sister” have got to be up there, too.
You say “I love you” to your child before they head off to school for the day, when you tuck them in at night, and in countless other small moments, day in and day out.
But after a while, saying “I love you” becomes something you do on autopilot. The phrase can feel like a routine rather than heartfelt words filled with warmth. So instead of your child hearing those words and feeling secure in your love for them, the words barely connect.
In the hustle and bustle of family life, saying “I love you” to your child can become as notable as saying “don’t forget your backpack” or “time for dinner.” In other words: Not at all notable.
Here’s the Solution
Your child needs to feel secure in your love for them. Because when a child feels warmth and affection from a parent, that shapes the child’s happiness for life—research shows that expressing love to your child results in life-long positive outcomes for the child. That includes higher self-esteem, better parent-child communication, and fewer psychological and behavior problems.1Cox, M. J., & Harter, K. S. M. (2003). Parent-child relationships. In M. H. Bornstein, L. Davidson, C. L. M. Keyes, & K. A. Moore (Eds.), Well-being: Positive development across the life course (pp. 191–204). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
But any phrase you use a lot can lose its meaning, including “I love you.” This phenomenon is called semantic satiation, and it means that repeating a word or phrase can make it less meaningful for the listener—or even meaningless.2Petit, Z. (2015, December 9). Semantic Satiation: Why Words Sometimes Sound Weird or Lose All Meaning. Mental Floss.
The solution? Mix up your regular routine with a handful of new and cute ways to say “I love you” to your child.
But First, You Need to Know
Sharing sweet words with your child is just one way to show how much you love them. I would never want to suggest that simply talking about how much you love your child could replace giving them hugs and kisses, actively listening when they talk, and spending quality time together.
So if you’re looking for some fresh ways to show love to your child every day—even when you’re busy—here are a few more resources for you:
- Surprise your child with a new kind of hug from this list of 20 Fun Ways to Hug Your Child.
- To encourage your child to open up about what’s important to them, what has them worried, and what they’re excited about, check out 100 Non-Boring Questions for Kids to Get Them Talking.
- If you struggle to fit in quality one-on-one time with your child, you’ll love The Best 10-Minute Fix to Spending Quality Time With Kids.
- Take five minutes to read aloud to your child from a special book: 10 Picture Books About Love That Will Make Your Kids Feel Absolutely Loved.
50 Cute Ways to Say “I Love You” to Your Child
When you want to make sure your child truly feels the meaning of your loving words, pick one of these heartfelt but cute ways to say “I love you” to your child.
Because you don’t use these phrases every day, they’ll disrupt the automatic “I love you” reflex and get your child’s attention so that the words don’t go in one ear and out the other without connecting. (Side note: Many of these phrases work well for spouses, too!)
When you sprinkle a few of these sweet phrases and actions into your days, the meaning of your message will get through, and your child will feel secure in your unconditional love.
- You make me smile.
- I love you from your toes to your nose to where your hair grows!
- For extra giggles, touch your child’s toes when you say “toes,” their nose when you say “nose,” and the top of their head when you say the last line.
- As an alternative, some families use “I love you from your head to your toes—and from your knees to your nose.”
- You make my heart feel full.
- I love you so much I want to eat you all up! (If your child is familiar with the classic picture book Where the Wild Things Are†, they’ll love hearing this one.)
- You’re one of a kind.
- I love your insides and your outsides!
- You make life fun. (This phrase is featured on our sweet I Love You Bookmarks. Get the whole set here so that every time your child reaches for one, they’ll feel absolutely loved.)
- Seeing you happy makes me happy.
- You are a precious treasure to me.
- I love your laugh/smile.
- It’s you I like. Every part of you. (Perfect for fans of Mister Rogers!)
- I love you more than… Then follow up with a specific example, like:
- More than all the stars in the sky
- More than all the fish in the sea,
- More than all the crayons in the biggest crayon box,
- More than monkeys love bananas,
- More than milk loves cookies,
- More than cupcakes love sprinkles, and so on—feel free to come up with your own silly comparisons too!
- I heart you.
- Say “I love you” in sign language. (Teach your child what that sign means so that any time you flash them the sign, they’ll know what’s in your heart.)
- You are my favorite 5-year-old. (Just replace with their current age!)
- I love you to the moon and back. (Or you can take this one step further by adding on, like “I love you to the moon, past the end of our solar system, to the next galaxy over and to every other galaxy in the universe, to the alien planet no one knows about yet, and all the way back home.”)
- I’m a fan of you. (This one is inspired by our favorite pick for family movie night, We Bought a Zoo. An alternative is: “I’m your biggest fan.”)
- I love you so much that my heart might just explode. (To ham it up, you can cover your face or avert your eyes and say, “No, really. I can’t look at you anymore, or I’ll go kablooey!” Out of this whole list of cute ways to say “I love you” to your child, this is the one that gets the most giggles from my kids!)
- You light up my day.
- I love you THIS much.
- Then hold your arms out as wide as you can.
- Alternatively, you can ask “Do you know how much I love you?” and then answer “THIS much” with your arms held out wide.
- Come up with a code word that means “I love you” so you can say it any time, even if you’re around others or in a crowded place. For example, you could teach your child that any time you say “whirligig” or “flibbertigibbet,” that means “I love you.”
- I love you so big.
- You are my sunshine. (You can also keep it going with “You make me happy when skies are gray.”)
- I have fun when I’m with you.
- I love you more than French fries. (Or insert your favorite food like pizza or cupcakes.)
- Seeing you smile makes me smile.
- You are made of awesome sauce.
- I love you so stinking much.
- Teach your child that when you mouth the words “olive juice” and “I love you,” it looks the same. Then a day or two later, get their attention and say “olive juice” aloud. It’ll take them a second, but they’ll remember!
- I wouldn’t trade you for a million gabazillion dollars.
- I love you when… or… Then finish with two very different examples, like:
- I love you when you feel brave or scared, or
- I love you when you’re serious or silly. (Side note: The inspiration for this one came from the sweet children’s book called The I Love You Book.)
- I miss you when I blink. (This is also the name of a funny memoir from a mom about trying to do it all.)
- Channel your inner Buddy the Elf and sing, “I love you! I love you! I love you!”
- I love you times infinity.
- You are pure magic.
- I dig you.
- I love you even when… Then finish the sentence with something silly or cute, like:
- I love you even when you have stinky feet,
- I love you even when your hair is a mess, or
- I love you even when you have chocolate ice cream on your face. (By the way, the inspiration for this comes from the song “All Ways” that’s on this playlist of The Best 20 Love Songs for Kids. If you’re looking for more cute ways to say “I love you” to your child, check the lyrics of those songs!)
- I wish I didn’t have to go to work so we could stay home together and play all day!
- Say “I love you” in a different language, like “Je t’aime” in French or “Ich liebe dich” in German. (Here’s a list of some common “I love you” translations from the Duolingo app.)
- I love you the mostest.
- I love your face.
- You’re a gem.
- Come up with a secret handshake that means “I love you.” For example, you can teach your child that when you squeeze their hand three times in a row, that means “I love you.”
- No matter how many times I say “I love you,” I will always love you more than that!
- You’ve got a friend in me. (Toy Story fans love this one!)
- If I had a time machine, I would go back in time and spend today with you all over again.
- I love you three thousand. (This one’s perfect for Iron Man fans, but you can use any random big number.)
- Ask, “You know what my favorite thing about you is?” They might say, “No, what?” Then reply: “Everything.”
- Of all the days I’ve lived, the best ones have been with you.
- I love you because… Then finish the sentence with something silly or cute, like:
- I love you because you giggle at my stupid jokes,
- I love you because you like curry, or
- I love you because you hate getting pruney fingers in the bath.
Bonus: When to Use These “I Love You” Alternatives
You don’t have to wait for Valentine’s Day to share loving words like this. Here are a few situations where you can try out these cute ways to say “I love you” to your child:
- Say one of these phrases during a transition time, like before your child leaves for school, when they get home from school (or you get home from work), or when you tuck them in at bedtime.
- Write one of these phrases on a small slip of paper and leave that little “love note” somewhere for your child to find, such as under their pillow, in their backpack, or in the fridge next to whatever they usually have for breakfast.
- Use window markers to write one of these phrases on your child’s bathroom mirror.
- Surprise your child with their favorite snack, just because, then sit down to enjoy it with them. When you hit a lull in the conversation, say one of these phrases.
- Pair one of these phrases with physical touch like a hug, a snuggle on the couch, or a quick shoulder massage. For hug ideas, check out 20 Fun Ways to Hug Your Child.
- As you’re doing chores together, slip in one of these funny ways to say “I love you.” For example, if you’re at the sink washing dishes while your child is loading, surprise them with one of these phrases.
Before you go, get my FREE cheat sheet: 75 Positive Phrases Every Child Needs to Hear
What are your favorite cute ways to say “I love you” to your child? Share in a comment below!
- 1Cox, M. J., & Harter, K. S. M. (2003). Parent-child relationships. In M. H. Bornstein, L. Davidson, C. L. M. Keyes, & K. A. Moore (Eds.), Well-being: Positive development across the life course (pp. 191–204). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.