Rarely do we hear about the need for affection in parenting. Yet, it is one trait in parents that means a lot to children and plays a big factor in the way they turn out on their journey to adulthood. How? For one thing, it helps raise resilient kids.
Resilience is the ability to accept and adapt to adverse changes in one’s life. Adults do not have a monopoly on adversity. In kids, it’s parents divorcing, changing schools or moving to another place, falling seriously ill, experiencing a drop in the family’s financial circumstances, or getting hurt by friends.
For children, these are significant and sad matters, and a child who cannot adapt will have difficulty coping with the changes brought about by such tragedies. Their performance in school goes down, they exhibit negative emotions, like anger or withdrawal from family and friends, and they have physical ailments.
Children who are resilient can recover from misfortune and get back on their feet. They know that the tragedies do not define them. Resilient kids have an optimistic outlook, believing that something better is possible. They understand that they are not unique in their sufferings, and others go through similar or worse trials.
Children who have the ability to adapt develop self-esteem and confidence to help them achieve their goals. Growing up and into adulthood, they have fewer behavioral problems and can maintain harmonious and stable relationships. They have higher chances for success in their chosen careers. Yet, in their personal and professional lives, they also know their limits and ask for support when needed. Affection in parenting is manifested through physical, verbal, and emotional means.
Here are ways to be affectionate in your parenting:
Hug and kiss your children starting at birth. Physical touch is an affirmation of your love and care for them. As they grow older, they may not appreciate the same overt physical affection, thinking these are too childish. But a pat on the back, an encouraging smile, or a side hug still means a lot to them.
In affectionate parenting, you must take time to really listen. When your child comes running to you to share their happy or sad stories, pay full attention and respond accordingly. Be happy for their joy and sympathetic for their unfortunate experiences. When they’ve made a new friend, or an old friend suddenly cuts them off, when their pet dies – these are just a few examples of meaningful stories for them that grownups may dismiss as trivial.
Related reading: What Is Childhood Emotional Neglect And How It Affects Your Child
Tell them often that you love them, in addition to the physical touch. Your avowal of love through touch and words should be unconditional, regardless of their temperament. Children who feel safe in the love of their parents become more resilient to adversities because they know they have a haven to go home to. Even parents who are divorcing should reinforce their love for their children physically and verbally.
Give them your presence. No matter how busy you are, affectionate parenting means always making time to be there for them. When they’re going through a stressful experience, assure them of your unconditional love and support. Encourage them to open up about adverse incidents, what they learned from it, and tell them that there is still a future beyond the setback or negative occurrence.
Related reading: How to Help Kids Deal with Grief
Set boundaries for their behaviors. Tell children the rules and expect them to obey. But also listen to their point of view without necessarily accepting them. Rules on money and going out should be within the bounds of reason and should not be overly strict. Assign chores to children to train them on the values of support, teamwork and contribution.
Teach them to practice acceptance, compassion and empathy. Don’t cushion them from the harsh realities of life. Talk to them about the inevitability of changes and how it’s up to them to get back up on their feet when they encounter failures or obstacles.
First published in 2018; updated April 2022