Why Making Children Feel Loved is so Important
Updated: Sep 22, 2022
Two truths about (most of) us parents: we want what's best for our kids, and we are busy!
Balancing what to prioritize for our kids is challenging: Do we get them tutored in math? Make them practice piano? Put them in soccer, baseball, and track and field?
It turns out that what's best for our kids may be easiest to provide: a word of encouragement, a hug when they're feeling low, or a simple "I love you.
Keep reading and you’ll learn
How can you show your kid that they are loved and valued?
Many parents think that saying "I love you" and "I value you" are enough to make a child feel loved and valued. While verbal affirmations like this are important, they are not enough. A parent must also demonstrate that they love and value their kid. Here are a few ways to show kids they are loved and valued:
supportive affection, and
Verbal affection is saying, “I love you,” “you are my sweetie,” or “my darling child.” It's any way of telling your kid that you love them.
Non-verbal affection is giving your child a hug, a kiss on the cheek, or holding their hand (but only if they like these things!).
Supportive affection is showing you care through your actions. For example, when you help your kid solve a problem, listen to their ideas, and support them through challenges.
Confirmation is confirming your kid’s value as a person for exactly who they are. It’s letting them know that their quirks are what make them special. It's showing them their opinions and feelings matter and they are worth listening to.
So how do your affection and confirmation help?
We all want our kids to become happy, self-sufficient adults. But the parenting advice on how to do this has changed over time.
In the early 20th century, experts advised parents to show their children minimal affection. In one book, the author John B Watson wrote, “Never, never hug and kiss them, never let them sit in your lap. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say goodnight. Shake hands with them in the morning.”
Luckily, parenting advice has changed significantly. In the 1940s, Dr. Spock strongly advocated that parents show their children affection and treat them as individuals. However, his contemporaries criticized his advice as anecdotal without actual evidence.
Well, now we have evidence! Multiple studies demonstrate that a parent’s affection and confirmation increase a child’s self-esteem and decrease their stress. Even better, these effects last through adulthood.
How do high self-esteem and low stress make happier adults? Evidence shows adults with those characteristics are more satisfied with life and have fewer relationship problems.
And how do high self-esteem and low stress make more self-sufficient adults? The same evidence shows those adults perform at a higher and more consistent level and have a lower risk of mental and physical health problems.
Here are a few ideas why affection and confirmation increase self-esteem and decrease stress:
When you tell and show your child that you value them for who they are, they start to believe it too. They feel worthy of affection. Their confidence in themselves grows, setting the foundation for life-long increased self-esteem.
Your kid also learns that their value does not rely on individual successes. As a result, when they struggle with school, friendships, or sports, they’re much less likely to feel shame. Day-to-day challenges become less stressful.
Keep reading for how to add these into your everyday interactions with your kid!
But before we do that, here are two common pitfalls to avoid
2 common mistakes parents make when giving their kids affection
The first: only providing affection or confirmation when a child has “accomplished” something.
When a parent does this, they are making affection conditional on success. This can lead to a child feeling extreme pride after success but also extreme shame after failure. Their self-esteem becomes fragile and dependent on how others think of them.
The second: equating affection and confirmation with praise.
Praise implies judgment. You praise someone when you approve of what they’ve done. While a parent’s sincere praise can motivate their child, it’s crucial to differentiate praise from affection and confirmation.
There should be no judgment associated with a parent’s affection and confirmation. The child should know their parent loves them unconditionally and values them, regardless of their success.
What does feeling loved and valued have to do with CSA* prevention?
You might be wondering how making a child feel loved and valued impacts CSA* prevention. After all, this site and its information focus on CSA prevention.
CSA offenders often target children who feel unloved. They look for children with low self-esteem or an emotional gap they can fill.
Because these children are easy to groom. An offender can gain their trust by making them feel loved and valued–what they miss from their parents. The child becomes devoted to the offender and is more likely to do what the offender asks. Then, later, they're more likely to keep what they’ve done a secret.
But a child who already feels loved and valued?
They don’t have an emotional gap that needs filling.They’re less enamored by adults who show them affection because they get affection they need from their parents. And if an offender does something to them, they’re more likely to tell their parents. Why? Because they're less afraid of losing their parents' love. They know their parents love them unconditionally, regardless of anything that happens.
5 ways to show your child they are loved and valued
Here are a few great parenting tips on ways to show affection and confirmation to your child:
Lunchbox Love Yous. Write a love note to your kid each day and slip it into their lunch box.
Want some ideas?
We’ve created a FREE list of ways of expressing love along with cute cards to write them on.
Let them choose. Let your kid choose something for the family each week. Maybe your kid can pick one meal a week, a movie for the family to watch, or a weekend activity. Letting them choose shows the kid that what they want to do is valued and that they can have influence.
Bedtime snuggles. Take time each night to snuggle with your kid, ask them if there’s anything on their mind, and listen. Before you leave, tell them you love them: “I love you, forever and always, no matter what.”
Dinner Conversations. Include your kid in your family conversations. Ask about their day. Check in to see if they have ideas or opinions about whatever you are talking about, then listen. Incorporate whatever they’ve said into the conversation. Engage with their ideas. Ask follow-up questions.
Support the struggle.
Maybe this is verbal:
“That looks hard. I appreciate that you’re trying!”
“I love when I see you work through something that’s challenging.”
“It looks like you’re struggling. Know that I love you no matter what.”
A hug when they’re crying.
A pat on the back before a challenge.
A kiss on the forehead when they didn’t succeed.
Help them practice passing the soccer ball.
Work through a few math problems with them.
Talk through their concerns.
Do you have trouble being affectionate?
Many of us didn’t grow up in affectionate homes, so expressing affection doesn’t come naturally. If this is you, that’s ok! Here’s a piece of parenting advice: scheduled affection works too! Try incorporating acts of affection and confirmation into your daily routine. The Lunchbox Love Yous and bedtime snuggles are great for this! Since these happen at a defined time of day, you can set a reminder for yourself to do them.
What are some ways you show your child they are valued and loved?
Post them in the comments below!
Do you have any questions, thoughts, or concerns? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And don't forget your FREE Lunchbox Love Yous 😊
Assor, Avi, and Karen Tal. “When Parents’ Affection Depends on Child’s Achievement: Parental Conditional Positive Regard, Self‐aggrandizement, Shame and Coping in Adolescents ☆.” Journal of Adolescence 35, no. 2 (April 2012): 249–60. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2011.10.004. Conte, Jon R, Steven Wolf, and Tim Smith. “What Sexual Offenders Tell Us about Prevention Strategies.” Child Abuse & Neglect 13, no. 2 (January 1989): 293–301. https://doi.org/10.1016/0145-2134(89)90016-1. Elliott, Michele, Kevin Browne, and Jennifer Kilcoyne. “Child Sexual Abuse Prevention: What Offenders Tell Us.” Child Abuse & Neglect 19, no. 5 (May 1995): 579–94. https://doi.org/10.1016/0145-2134(95)00017-3. Ellis, Kathleen. “Perceived Parental Confirmation: Development and Validation of an Instrument.” Southern Communication Journal 67, no. 4 (November 1, 2002): 319–34. https://doi.org/10.1080/10417940209373242. Fitzpatrick, Mary Anne, and L. David Ritchie. “Communication Schemata Within the Family: Multiple Perspectives on Family Interaction.” Human Communication Research 20, no. 3 (March 1994): 275–301. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2958.1994.tb00324.x. Floyd, Kory, and Mark T. Morman. “The Measurement of Affectionate Communication.” Communication Quarterly 46, no. 2 (March 1998): 144–62. https://doi.org/10.1080/01463379809370092. Galanakis, Michael J., Anastasia Palaiologou, Georgia Patsi, Ioanna-Maria Velegraki, and Christina Darviri. “A Literature Review on the Connection between Stress and Self-Esteem.” Psychology 07, no. 05 (2016): 687–94. https://doi.org/10.4236/psych.2016.75071. Gunderson, Elizabeth A., Sarah J. Gripshover, Carissa Romero, Carol S. Dweck, Susan Goldin-Meadow, and Susan C. Levine. “Parent Praise to 1- to 3-Year-Olds Predicts Children’s Motivational Frameworks 5 Years Later.” Child Development 84, no. 5 (September 2013): 1526–41. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.12064. Henderlong, Jennifer, and Mark R. Lepper. “The Effects of Praise on Children’s Intrinsic Motivation: A Review and Synthesis.” Psychological Bulletin 128, no. 5 (2002): 774–95. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.128.5.774. Koerner, Ascan F., and Mary Anne Fitzpatrick. “Toward a Theory of Family Communication.” Communication Theory 12, no. 1 (February 2002): 70–91. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2885.2002.tb00260.x. Polcari, Ann, Keren Rabi, Elizabeth Bolger, and Martin H. Teicher. “Parental Verbal Affection and Verbal Aggression in Childhood Differentially Influence Psychiatric Symptoms and Wellbeing in Young Adulthood.” Child Abuse & Neglect 38, no. 1 (January 2014): 91–102. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2013.10.003. Schrodt, Paul, Andrew M. Ledbetter, and Jennifer K. Ohrt. “Parental Confirmation and Affection as Mediators of Family Communication Patterns and Children’s Mental Well-Being.” Journal of Family Communication 7, no. 1 (February 2007): 23–46. https://doi.org/10.1080/15267430709336667.