“When you look at the research, kids’ resilience is often based on the time they spend with their parents, knowing they are appreciated by the family.”
– Psychologist Mary Alvard, author of Resilience Builder Program for Children and Adolescents (Hellmich, 5-30-2012)
Affection does not spoil children. Love and affection make them stronger. This is one of the most established principles of child development that is every bit as concrete as the laws of gravity: More loving affection = better, stronger kids. Less loving affection = more insecure, vulnerable, socially incompetent kids.
Yet there are still many parents out there who withhold love and affection under the idea that it might somehow turn children into soft, dependent individuals. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Other parents may withhold expressions of love because they’re uncomfortable giving or receiving affection; the remnants of their own emotionally malnourished childhood. Either way, the result is the same: a weaker, more insecure and incompetent child.
The Importance of Showing Kids Affection
Imagine it this way: say you are taking two children and dropping them off in the desert for 4 days with no food or water. One child has been well fed and has just eaten a large meal with plenty of water. The other has been starved for two weeks and is already skin and bones, his body starting to eat itself from being starved of the nutrients it needs. Would you say the malnourished child will be better able to handle this new adversity under the premise that being previously deprived of important necessities made him stronger? Or would you say that the previous neglect makes him more likely to whither up and die when faced with this challenging situation?
The same principle applies to children. Love and affection are not a luxury; these things are a basic need. Children who are entirely deprived of it literally die; their bodies shut down and call it quits. (Orphaned animals have high mortality rates for the same reason.) There are certain things all children need to survive, and the more secure they are in these basic needs, the stronger they’ll be. Most people don’t realize that neglect is almost universally more harmful to kids than abuse, because whereas abusing a child chips away at trust and security and a sense of belonging, neglect prevents these important foundations from being there in the first place.
Love and affection is one of those core needs, something that builds a child’s foundation. Thousands upon thousands of studies have shown that children with strong attachments (loving caretakers) fare better in every domain of competency and resiliency you could measure.
Giving a child all the love and affection they can soak up is like watering a plant so its roots can grow big, strong, and durable, giving it strength against hardships that might come its way. When life comes to chip away at a child, as it inevitably will, having a thick foundation makes them stronger in the face of adversity; more equipped to handle outside threats to their core psychology. So don’t be stingy with this important nutrient.