As my kids get older, I’m realizing that I’m not quite as affectionate as I used to be. After all, they know that I love them–right?
When they were younger, it was easy to give them a kiss on top of their head as I wiped jelly off their face, or hold them in my lap after putting ointment on a skinned knee. But now that my kids are taller than I am and definitely a little bulkier, holding them as we sit on the floor together is certainly not an option.
As our kids start to become more independent and we’re more worried about getting them to soccer practice or dance lessons on time and making sure they have their homework done, we sometimes forget the simple things in life–and affection can be one of them. Stress typically keeps us centered on the next task and striking things off the to-do list rather than helping us focus on the relationship.
Did you know that appropriate physical affection can elevate a hormone called oxytocin that causes a calming sensation? There is also a scientific study that shows that appropriate physical touch helps build trust in a relationship. After all, we certainly want our kids to trust us. But there is also evidence that physical connection puts us in a better mood the next day. And, of course, most of us would prefer that over the sometimes hormone induced negativism.
Our kids need to feel that they are lovable and affection shows we care.
However, affection doesn’t only need to be physical. Sometimes verbal affection can be just as important as physical touch. While a soft hand on the shoulder or a ruffling of our teen’s hair denotes endearment, sometimes our kids just want to hear the words. “I believe in you”, “You can do this”, and “You know that I love you, don’t you?”, if said with sincerity in a moment that brings connection will breed a relationship that withstands the struggles of conflict and disagreement.
Remember that the timing of affection can be everything.
I’m laughing as I’m writing this as I’m reminded of when my son was in grade school and used to have his best friend sleep over on a regular basis. I’d put blankets on the family room floor and say prayers with them as I tucked them in for the night. And my ritual was the same. I’d give my son a big hug and a kiss on the cheek and do the same with his buddy. Every time, the routine was the same and we’d laugh together.
As they moved into the teen years, I remember bringing the blankets downstairs as I usually did; however, this time I didn’t pray with them or tuck them in. I said something like, “You two are old enough to say your prayers and tuck yourself in.” To which my son’s friend replied, “But you have to kiss us before we can go to sleep.”
And I did.
I was communicating to both of them that I loved them. They were used to the affection and wanted to know that even though they were growing up, my love didn’t need to change.
That said, in any other circumstance, giving my teen affection in front of his friends would have embarrassed him beyond belief. That’s where the timing of affection comes in. In intimate settings where patterns have been established our teens will appreciate it; otherwise we need to respect them in public settings so that they won’t be the target of ridicule by their friends who don’t have appropriate affection modeled.
So what can you do, if affection hasn’t been a regular staple in your home? What if it feels awkward and something you aren’t used to?
A touch on the hand, a rubbing on the shoulder, or a playful tickle on the neck might be a good place to start. Find a one-on-one time where you are alone together talking and make a gentle move. Don’t be surprised if they look at you funny or say something like, “You’ve never done that before.”
Rather than being embarrassed and backing off, say something like, “I just miss the closeness we used to have when you were little. You’re growing up on me. I just know that sometimes I like someone to show me affection. Know that you can come get a hug from me anytime you like.” And go on with whatever else you are doing.
I’ve always found that nighttime is a good time for words of affection. Knocking on the door soon after one of my kids has gone to bed has been a great time to say, “Goodnight, I love you.”
If you find your kids feeling down or sad, hugs are usually welcomed. Go slow with a side hug if it hasn’t been something your kid is used to. My guess is that as the new behavior continues, they’ll seek you out more for their hug.
And if they are those rare kids that don’t like physical touch, try a fist bump or a high-five. It still says that they are lovable and important to you.
Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
“Let go…and Let God”,