Short answer: Show affection as much as you can.
Often, we use the words “affection” and “love” interchangeably. While understandable, and they can certainly overlap, I’m going to make a distinction between love and affection. Affection is adoration, fondness, liking someone. So our question would change to:
How much should I show my child that I adore them, I am fond of them and that I like them?
See the difference that makes?
Or let me put it this way—a baby doesn’t understand the self-sacrificial love that you have for them deep in your heart, but just holding them and cuddling demonstrates affection. And they pick up on it. And it has long-term developmental consequences.
Or how about this? How would a teen receive an “I love you” if there was never any affection shown toward them? Those words would be meaningless.
Showing your child affection communicates security, belonging, acceptance, and that they are liked.
Sometimes as parents we stumble over the simplicity and the importance of showing affection. I hope my kids know and trust that I love them, but I also hope they know that I really like and enjoy them, too.
I have five kids. As babies, they were all held, snuggled, and rocked. There is no better feeling in the world than having one of my little babies asleep on my chest. My youngest is now 14. He was my only “snuggly” little one.
Wow. Things are a lot different now. Showing affection evolves at different ages and stages as our kids grow up. My 14-year-old son doesn’t want to be “snuggled” and he definitely isn’t going to fall asleep on my chest. (Even hugs, if his friends are around, are kinda iffy.) But he appreciates a pat on the back after he mowed the yard or a hand on his shoulder if we are waiting in line. He really loves hearing that I noticed the heel-kick he did in a soccer game.
Each of my five children is a unique individual. Even when they were little, each had their own personality. One of the first parenting lessons I learned was that what one child needed in terms of affection from me was different from another child. I also learned that the ways I showed affection to them that seemed meaningful to me and came naturally to me did not necessarily translate into affection from my kids’ point of view, so I had to learn what they needed.
I had to spend time with each of them and learn about their individual hearts.
Some of the things I learned over time that have helped me figure out the best ways to express affection to my kids are:
Pay close attention to what they ask of you.
This can provide insights into how they receive affection. Do they ask:
- You to come and play with them? Quality Time.
- If you think the picture they drew is pretty? Affirmation.
- If you can help with their hair? Touch.
Pay close attention to how they express affection to you.
This also provides insight into their heart and what means affection to them. Do they:
- Want to sit in your lap and give you hugs?
- Like to make things for you like drawing you a picture or bring you things like a dandelion?
- Tell you they like hanging out with you while you work on the car?
★ Spend Time With Them. ★
- Learn their “affection language.” When my daughter was about 5, I took her to a movie and put my arm on the back of her seat. She immediately asked me to move my arm. Point noted!
- Let them set the agenda for what you do together. Get on the floor and play with their toys together. Watch them play video games. If you are present and engaged, you are saying you like them and like spending time with them. (Put your phone away.)
- Take them with you to run errands or hang out with you while you’re working on stuff. Show that you just enjoy their company. Lots of bonding happens organically just being together.
- Notice and express gratitude for the little things they do. Don’t reserve praise for big things. “Thanks for telling me a little about your day.” “I appreciate you helping bring the groceries in.” This communicates that you notice and like them.
Spend time with your child and become a student of their heart. Tell them that you love them but also tell them that you like them, you enjoy spending time with them, how proud you are of them, and that you believe in them. This all translates to affection to your child.
Many kids today don’t think their parents even like them, let alone love them. You are communicating how you feel about your kids all the time. And they are watching.