“Mommy, I love you. I wanna hug and a kiss.” You smile and bend over to pick your preschooler up and kiss all over his face as he giggles and squirms. Your open show of affection makes him feel worthy, safe and loved. Without your love and affection, he doesn’t learn to care or for bond with others. Your job is so important and your best tools are your heart, your hands and your face.
1. Self Esteem
You pat her on the back as you murmur, “You can do it. I know you can.” Your display of affection and encouraging words let her know you are sincere. You believe in her and so she learns to believe in herself, according to Dr. James Dobson. She knows that if she looks back at you she will see your thumbs-up sign and hear you cheer her on as she dances across the stage with the rest of her preschool class. Without your affection and support, she wouldn’t have the courage to try. And when she succeeds, she can count on a huge hug and your words of approval.
2. Room to Grow
Affection and affirmation, coupled with consistent limits, give him room to grow and develop new skills. He knows you will keep him safe so he is free to explore the world around him and experience new things, according to the University of Illinois Extension's "Family Works." He might look back at you before he begins a new task, looking for permission and encouragement. Nod, winks and verbal encouragement demonstrate your assurance that he’s safe and free to move forward.
3. Relationship Model
“Mommy, hug me like you hug Daddy.” You chuckle and hug her tight, adding a big kiss like you give Daddy when he comes home from work. She learns healthy ways to relate to others by watching you, according to Dr. William Sears. For example, if you respond warmly to her babysitter or a neighbor, she decides this person can be trusted. If she sees you disagree with your partner without responding with sharp words or negative touch, she learns how to disagree without being disagreeable. Your use of affectionate touch such as high fives, thumbs up and back and head pats teach her ways she can express support of others. She also learns by watching you that soft, gentle touches can dispel anger and open up the door for restoration, affirms Dr. Gary Smalley.
4. Healthy Boundaries
Respecting your child’s boundaries when showing affection affirms healthy boundaries. “Mommy, I don’t want to kiss you!” your preschooler shouts. He’s angry, but in a little while he will return to give you that kiss and hug he just refused. Allow him the freedom to refuse affection from others and to know that affection is appropriate between family and close friends, but not strangers. This helps him remain safe and helps him respect the boundaries of others. It also lets him know you respect his feelings.
- Family Education: The Importance of Physical Affection
- University of Illinois Extension: Family Works: Show, Just Don't Tell — Learning Affection and Love
- Facts for Life: Child Development and Early Learning
- Hide or Seek: How to Build Self-Esteem in Your Child; Dr. James Dobson
- Parent Project: Tools for Godly Parenting; Dr. William Sears, et al.
- Homes of Honor; Dr. Gary Smalley
- Goodshoot/Goodshoot/Getty Images