It is easy for young children to show affection. We suffocate our babies in kisses and hugs, but once children reach the age they are always on the move, parents can walk all day without touching their children. Research shows that 90% of parents hug their young children (under 3 years) daily, but only 50% of older children. But older children need just as much affection as young children.
“When I try to hug my 12-year-old daughter, she withdraws.” Complains Barb, a mother of 4 children. This is a common complaint from parents with older children. This resistance can lead to parents feeling rejected by their child and showing no further physical affection. This makes the child feel unloved.
But this resistance to affection is often nothing other than self-confidence and a sensitivity to everything that could be embarrassing. Older children still need the affirmation and affirmation that comes from receiving affection. The trick is to show affection in a way that your “Mushiness” radar doesn’t trigger. So, while a child could take a hug from dad at home, it would be terrifying if dad tried it on the soccer field! Another child might reject kisses altogether, but still enjoy the raw affection that comes with a wrestling or a soccer game. For example, my older children don’t like to be cuddled, but they can’t resist the offer of tickling the back or stroking their hair. So don’t give up showing affection – just change your tactics.
Strategies to Increase Affection at Home
1. Implement loving daily rituals of affection. By introducing rituals like kissing or hugging for good morning and good night, you instantly increase the chances of showing affection.
2. Conduct a family lesson every night. This is a time when the family comes together, preferably with the TV off. This creates a feeling of family unity and offers the opportunity to be physically close. Listen to music, play backgammon, rub your feet – there are many things you can do to connect when you’re all in the same room together.
3. Regularly take a child or the whole family on walks in the neighborhood. This ritual of walking the dog or simply exploring the neighborhood offers opportunities for personal conversation and intimacy, which often leads to physical affection in a natural way. While my 13 year old usually resists my hugs, I find that she is happy to put my arm around her shoulders while we walk and talk to the dog.
4. Have time for family sports. Games like soccer or tennis and bowling offer opportunities for physical affection and attachment without the mushiness that older children are afraid of. Even Wii Sports can be an opportunity to connect and laugh with your kids. The sight of their parents trying to snowboard down a virtual hill usually reduces my kids to hysteria.
5. Create night routines. Read a book in a chair together, sit on the bed for a few minutes before bed, tickle your back – you can do many routines that take just a few minutes, but allow you to connect physically and emotionally.
6. Develop a secret code that only you both know. I share a special gesture with my children that they know means “I love you”. I use it when I drop her off at school so I don’t embarrass her with a loving display. They roll their eyes, but it also makes them grin, so I know they secretly like it!
7. Get home early at least once a week to have fun with your children. Take them swimming, play a game of ball – develop a regular weekly routine to look forward to. When I look back, I can remember our excitement when Dad came home from work every day. My brother and I knew that the fun part of the afternoon started. He took us swimming or walking or inventing games to play – all of which gave us plenty of opportunities for physical contact and affection. It’s a shame that today’s long working days are a thing of the past. However, if you can do this once a week, your children can look forward to it.
8. Put a reminder on the fridge – “Did I hug my kids today?” Don’t let the hectic daily routine oversee how you physically connect with your children. Show affection whenever there is an opportunity. Squeeze her shoulder as you walk past, curl her hair, tickle her, challenge her to a ring of fingers … There are many ways to show affection to your child without embarrassing them.
9. Take time out every month for an excursion or activity with just one of your children. You have to build a special relationship with each child. The one-on-one conversation offers the opportunity to be close by, be it a walk, a milkshake or a shopping expedition.
By continuing to show affection when children grow up, you increase the likelihood that they will grow up to adults who can easily show affection. So stay tuned and one day you will be pleasantly surprised when your child turns and hugs you!