The Importance of Affection

by Lee Grayson

Showering affection on your children helps develop self-esteem and allows kids to feel confident in sharing feelings of warmth and love with others. Culture, tradition and community mores help define appropriate family practices in displaying affection, but children need to feel the love of family and friends to fully develop. Clinical psychologist Matthew J. Miller warns parents never to withhold affection as a form of punishment. Set limits, but let your child know that punishment has nothing to do with your love.

Positive Emotions

Affection has many dimensions, and children need different types from parents and families. Classic definitions of affection include touching, hugging and holding, according to the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning. Children also look for other, more subtle types of affection, such as pleasing facial expressions, smiles, and words of encouragement and endearment. The center notes that even casual touch, such as a pat on the head or hand placed on the shoulder, can convey positive emotions and show affection.

Modeling Affection

Adults learn to give love by experiencing affection as children. The University of Alabama Parenting Assistance Line classifies the failure to share emotions with children is a form of child abuse. Adults without the knowledge of how to show and give affection also lack the ability to demonstrate love and warmth for their children. Affection frequently happens spontaneously, but take time every day to give your child love and affection. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute recommends setting up at least one special meeting each week to "focus your love and attention on your child."

Development Problems

Children growing up without affection develop emotional and social challenges. Charles A. Nelson, III, professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, notes children have a window of development called the "sensitive period" when kids must have exposure to an action during a specific time interval for normal development. Early brain development uses positive affection as a guide to understand how to receive and the methods to give affection. Missing this sensitive window period, according to Nelson, has negative changes on the way children develop. Kids without firsthand observation may never be able to receive or give affection.

Lifetime Damage

People deal with the lack of childhood affection in a variety of ways. Parents who withhold affection help create feelings of depression in children. This void frequently leads to self-harming behaviors, including cutting and eating disorders, during the teen and young adult years, according to the University of Alabama Parenting Assistance Line (PAL). PAL also notes that withholding affection can lead to drug and alcohol abuse and mental illness. Children reach out to parents for comfort and affection, according to the National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families, and negative experiences fail to build trust and security relationships. Kids who lack affection also have trouble building and maintaining friendships.

About the Author

*I have written chapters and articles for Oxford and Harvard University Presses, ABC-CLIO, and others. Arcadia Press published two of my local history texts and I have also written for numerous "article sites," including Pagewise in 2002. My "How to become a...real estate agent" is available as an online text from a Canadian publisher. *I taught writing courses at a branch campus of Indiana University. *I held a California real estate license and have remodeled four of my own homes and advised others on financing homes, repairing credit to qualify for loans, and managing construction (including meeting local, state, and federal regulations for restoration and development grants). *I served as an AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer and wrote nearly $75,000 in small education grants (under $1,000). *My travels include frequent road trips in Canada, Mexico, U.S., and Europe. I attended school at Cambridge University and used this as a base to explore the UK and Europe.

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