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The Importance of Expressing Affection

Under topic: communication

Today is Valentine's Day, a great day to show love and affection.

Some parents find it difficult to express love of their children in outward displays of affection. They assume their children know they love them even when they do not or cannot say it in words.

These parents reason that the children see how hard they work to feed, cloth and educate them.

They assume their children understand that these sacrifices are made because they are loved.

When your child goes away to camp or visits a relative, write notes telling him how much he is loved.

They do not see the need to put their feelings into words like, "I love you very much and care about you." or by giving a big hug and kiss when they see the children. It is unwise to assume that your children are secure in the knowledge that you love them.

Most children are concrete thinkers.

I think parents who make such assumptions are in danger of being totally surprised and overwhelmed when in later years their child says, "I never knew how much you cared.

You never told me. All of those years growing up I felt you did not love me."

Or even worse, the child might say, "I never felt loved."

Children need to be told and feel affection. They cannot guess at your motives even though you are doing things which you feel are obvious expressions of how much they are loved. That is too abstract a concept for the growing child. Expressing love to children in words, physical demonstrations, hugs and kisses, is very difficult for some people not only because of their temperaments but also because they were brought up without these things. They have no model for outward expressions of love and do not know where to begin.

Begin by saying encouraging words to your children when you interact with them. Make a conscious effort to communicate and make the communication something positive. "You look nice this morning, Jane. That's a good color for you." or "We really enjoyed being with you today." This is particularly valuable when parents and child have engaged in some pleasant activity. Let your children know that you notice them, are aware of them and concerned about how they feel. If you do not happen to be a family that gives hugs easily, you might begin by just putting your hand on your child's shoulder or gently rubbing his back. Some people are afraid of rejection and hold back. Try to overcome this feeling and work up to little and then bigger hugs. Children might initially say "ugh" and hold back, but most children like it and will come to expect and look forward to a show of affection from members of their family.

Eventually, you may even be able to add words like, "I love you very much" or "You're a great kid, and I'm glad I'm your Dad (or Mom)" to the hug. Another way to work your way up to the spoken words, is to begin with writing. Some parents put notes in their children's lunch boxes that express affection or that are encouraging. When your child goes away to camp or visits a relative, write notes telling him how much he is loved. Another opportunity not to be missed is when your children go away to college. You can send hugs by mail.

There are wonderful cards that express emotions you may not be able to. Some of my favorites are: a card that shows a rabbit on the front jumping for joy and inside it says: "You make me feel so good." Another says: "Remember, there is someone who thinks of you often" and inside it says: "and smiles." There is another one which says: "Consider yourself hugged". Everytime you go by a card store look around, you'll find cards that express how you feel.

Send the cards often for no particular occasion.

Your children will get the message of love.

I encourage you to begin to send the message often. You do not need to wait until Valentine's Day. That only comes around once every year.

First published in 1994