This month, we discuss the second building block to emotional health: affection. These building blocks establish emotional well-being and must be learned early in life to ensure emotional health.
Affection is an outward expression of love. It seems a given; what parent does not love their child? Yet affection is expressed and perceived differently by each person. It is communicated by physical touch and by words of affirmation. Simply meeting a child's basic needs—food and shelter—does not necessarily translate to love in early emotional development. It is fundamentally necessary for young ones to experience affection.
A study conducted by Child Trends revealed that "...warmth and affection between parent and child translate to higher self-esteem, better parent-child communication, academic competence, fewer psychological and behavior problems" while in contrast stating that "insufficient levels of parental support can foster feelings of alienation, expressions of hostility/aggression, diminished self-esteem, and antisocial/risky behaviors." Research from Washington University School of Medicine found that "showing affection to children develops part of their brain, the hippocampus, which is the portion that aids in learning, memory and response to stress."
With outstretched arms, she peered up at me with those alluring black eyes melting me with her adorable and winsome toddler verbiage, "Mommy hold you!" She was welcoming and summoning my affection.
At times, children signal for your affection. Parents should consciously develop the habit of giving affection, even to older children. Our society sometimes makes it fuzzy for adults to decipher where boundaries are in terms of physical affection. Agreement can be found in hugs, kisses, gentle strokes of kiddo's hair, gentle back pats/rubs/massages, holding hands, a snuggle on the couch, sitting in your lap and linking arm-in-arm.
Expressed in spoken and written words, verbal affection is as important to children as physical. The old "they know I love them" adage does not cut it here. Parents should verbalize it. From birth, children need to hear their parents say, "I love you." Words give meaning to touch and touch gives meaning to words.
As time elapses, children learn what you say by what you do. Both components reinforce the other. When the spoken word and physical affection collide, a resilient emotional bond is built that becomes the foundation of all other life relationships. Loving actions and expressions of affection cannot be underrated. They are a vital link to emotional health.
Elaine Stone, mother of three, lives in Spotsylvania County.