We just returned from a two week vacation. The first week my daughter and I stayed with a friend of mine from college. We had lots of fun doing “girlie” things and exploring an area of the country that was new to us. The second week my husband joined us for a family vacation. My daughter made a very interesting comment when my husband arrived at the house a few minutes past her bedtime. She wanted to stay up late and spend a few minutes with “both of you”.
Her comment reminded me of a story one of my friends told of her daughter when she was a toddler. My friend and her husband had been away for a couple of weeks on business. When they returned, their youngest daughter did not want to have much to do with them. After a few days she was her normal affectionate self. It finally dawned on my friend that her daughter was “angry” at her parents for being gone.
Circumstances sometimes prevent us from spending as much time with our children as we might like. Children will also go through stages or phases when they appear to not want our affection or attention. The reality is our children need a minimum of eight to ten meaningful touches from us every day to be emotionally healthy.
As a mom who has also worked with children for many years, I have found some things to be true about a child’s need for attention and affection. The most important is that all children need affection and lots of it.
On a parenting scale, I would probably come out as a relatively strict parent. I am a firm believer in boundaries and consequences. I am also a huge believer in the idea that you cannot give your child too many hugs and kisses. I know when they are young, it sometimes seems as if your child has literally attached himself to your hip. I can promise you eventually his curiosity about the world will win out and in a few months (or years!) he will be running off to play with friends or to explore some new wonder.
Some of you may have a child who appears to not need or want affection or possibly even your attention. This is the child who may desperately need you to show you care even more than the affectionate child. Respect her boundaries, but find a way to give her the affection she needs. Maybe it is a pat on the back or a wink, but find a way to show her with your actions that she is loved and valued.
Other children are extremely affectionate. These are the children who will ask to snuggle or who still want to sit in your lap or hug you goodbye well into their teens. Please do not reject this child’s request for physical affection. Unfortunately, I have heard more than one mother tell an affectionate child she needs to stop hugging her mother so much because she is “too old”. Sadly, this child is “hardwired” to need a lot of physical touch. I would prefer for my child to get plenty of appropriate physical attention from her parents than to seek to meet that need in ways that are perhaps less appropriate.
When your child is in a “prickly” phase, it may be when he needs your affection the most. It could be a stretch for independence or something someone said or did at school which is making him withdraw. Once again, I would respect the boundaries of the child while still finding ways to show affection.
I know I have written about this before, but spend time each day just listening to your child. The things they say may seem silly or childish to you, but I can assure you they are very important to your child. They are trying to share their world with you. If you encourage them when they are young, the odds are greater they will continue to communicate through their teen years.
I tend to attract children like a magnet. My daughter is constantly amused by strange children coming up to me and telling me their life story out of the blue. I think it is because they can tell I am an adult who will really listen to them. I treat whatever they have to say with the utmost respect. I try to respond just as appropriately with questions and comments as I would to an adult. Try the next time you talk to any child to treat him as if he were telling you the most important thing in the world. What questions would you ask? What comments would you make?
Your children crave your time, attention and affection more than you will ever know. Our minister is a family therapist. One day he made a comment which has stuck with me. If an adult still has needs from her childhood which were unmet (like affection), she has to find a way to compensate or learn to deal with the past. Until she does, she will never be able to fully accomplish everything God intended for her to do. She will be too busy looking back to look forward and see God’s path.
I want to encourage you to make the environment in your home warm and loving. A place where your child knows he will be heard even when you disagree with him. If you can give your child that gift, it may do more than you know towards dedicating him to God.