Showering affection on your children helps develop self-esteem and allows kids to feel confident in sharing feelings of warmth and love with others. Culture, tradition and community mores help define appropriate family practices in displaying affection, but children need to feel the love of family and friends to fully develop. Clinical psychologist Matthew J. Miller warns parents never to withhold affection as a form of punishment. Set limits, but let your child know that punishment has nothing to do with your love.
Affection has many dimensions, and children need different types from parents and families. Classic definitions of affection include touching, hugging and holding, according to the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning. Children also look for other, more subtle types of affection, such as pleasing facial expressions, smiles, and words of encouragement and endearment. The center notes that even casual touch, such as a pat on the head or hand placed on the shoulder, can convey positive emotions and show affection.
Adults learn to give love by experiencing affection as children. The University of Alabama Parenting Assistance Line classifies the failure to share emotions with children is a form of child abuse. Adults without the knowledge of how to show and give affection also lack the ability to demonstrate love and warmth for their children. Affection frequently happens spontaneously, but take time every day to give your child love and affection. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute recommends setting up at least one special meeting each week to "focus your love and attention on your child."
Children growing up without affection develop emotional and social challenges. Charles A. Nelson, III, professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, notes children have a window of development called the "sensitive period" when kids must have exposure to an action during a specific time interval for normal development. Early brain development uses positive affection as a guide to understand how to receive and the methods to give affection. Missing this sensitive window period, according to Nelson, has negative changes on the way children develop. Kids without firsthand observation may never be able to receive or give affection.
People deal with the lack of childhood affection in a variety of ways. Parents who withhold affection help create feelings of depression in children. This void frequently leads to self-harming behaviors, including cutting and eating disorders, during the teen and young adult years, according to the University of Alabama Parenting Assistance Line (PAL). PAL also notes that withholding affection can lead to drug and alcohol abuse and mental illness. Children reach out to parents for comfort and affection, according to the National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families, and negative experiences fail to build trust and security relationships. Kids who lack affection also have trouble building and maintaining friendships.