A second way we can demonstrate love is physical affection. Now, some of us hear that and relax; but for others of us affection is unfamiliar, uncomfortable, or surfaces confusion or pain. I hope my thoughts and suggestions generate hope for the possibilities in your relationship with your child, no matter their age.
Episode 4 Resources: Aim for Affection
- Episode 3: Make a Face That Counts
- Ephesians 5.1-2 (ESV )
- Love You Forever by Robert Munsch
- Grab a copy of my book, Becoming A Peaceful Mom ~ Through Every Season of Raising Your Child
- Find me on Instagram @teresadglenn
Read Episode 4 Transcript
In Episode 3 I talked about how our facial expressions can demonstrate love to our child—or not. Did you try out that exercise with your child to learn about your facial expressions? If you did, I would love to hear about it. Especially, I hope it was helpful, like it was for me.
A second way we can demonstrate love is physical affection. Now, some of us hear that and relax; but for others of us affection is unfamiliar, uncomfortable, or surfaces confusion-or-pain. In our brief time together, I hope my thoughts and suggestions generate hope for the possibilities in your relationship with your child.
Have you ever thought about this— We don’t teach our babies and toddlers that our closeness and touch communicate love and security. Rather, our physical experiences with them teach us. Here’s what I mean . . . When we hold our baby, we learn that this comforts and helps her feel secure. When our toddler crawls into our lap, extends his little arms up, or expresses with his new-found words, Mommy/Daddy, hold you, we experience that he wants and needs affection.
We witness the opportunity and privilege that God intends for us as parents to be powerful and tangible sources of his love and security, throughout the years of raising our child. Yes, throughout the years.
But first, what about your experience of physical affection, growing up? This can influence our affection toward a child. Some of us enjoyed plentiful, loving affection, while others received little-to-none. Or maybe, we’re unsure what healthy affection is, because we experienced manipulative affection – or tragically, some degree of abuse. As a result, physical affection in many families is minimal, awkward, inconsistent, or confusing.
You and I have the opportunity to end unhealthy or weak patterns in our family’s generation. It takes a willing heart, prayer, effort, and time. This change is not ours to make, but our participation is essential.
God is the Author of new beginnings. Pursue him for this. Talk with him alone or in the company, of a trusted prayer companion. Sometimes we suppress pain. Invite God to bring to the surface memories and feelings that he wants to attend in your heart. When something comes to mind, release to him the emotion, memory, or absence of a desired experience of affection. For example, Dear God, I give you the time that___ and say what comes to mind and how it made you feel (or) Dear God, I did not experience___ and say what comes to mind….and I give that to you.
Next, ask God to help you forgive that person. Then ask God to thoroughly heal you. He sees our hollow place—or pain’s depth. His comforting love soaks deep and heals.
This is how I prayed over a season of time. It was difficult, yet awesomely freeing. I began to personally know God as Healer—and to better grasp his power and love as our Potter.
Healthy physical affection can be learned. So be encouraged! The apostle Paul reminds us in Ephesians 5.1-2 that God has shown us how to love, through the way that he loves us, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
First and most, pray (whether this is for yourself or your spouse): Lord, please help me want to be affectionate with my family and teach me how. Observe how your spouse, other parents, and children give or enjoy affection. Be intentional and practice.
Initially, your efforts may feel robotic, awkward, or contrived. Trust that God is at work, in you and through you. And, in time, you’ll discover that you’re giving and receiving pleasure!
So, what about when we don’t feel like giving affection? You might be exhausted, in a bad mood from a lousy day, or angry with your child. Go to God—He already knows—yet he wants us to come to him and depend on him. He wants us to experience his nearness and how he moves in and through us to love the child he has given us.
If you don’t feel like giving affection yet give it anyway, your child won’t know the difference. His experience is Momma is hugging me. His receives love— because God, who is Perfect Love, is at work. When we hug or kiss our child after he walks in the door from school or an activity, our touch communicates value, worth, and assurance. Your affection soothes and strengthens, especially if he’s had a hard day. Intentionally, during the middle and high school years, I was playfully affectionate – and often goofy about it, when we were at home. My demonstrative message was: Affection from me is the norm.
When our children were little, one of our favorite books was Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. It’s shows the love and physical affection between a mother and her child as he grows from a baby into an adult. Y’all, I got misty-eyed every time I read it to them!
Anyway! Sometimes right after reading, I playfully asked the kids:
“Will you sit on my lap–even when you’re 10?”
“Yes!” they squealed, beaming up at me.
“What about when you’re 20?”
“Yes, Mommy!” and then they always giggled, as though I was silly to even think that they wouldn’t.
Why am I sharing this? Our child does not premeditate pushing away our affection when he gets older.
Usually during the preteen years, a child comes to a crossroads regarding affection with us. She observes how peers interact with their parents. Maybe her friends don’t show affection with their parents… or, they’re not even around their parents. Aware of her physical growth, she concludes that hugs, holding hands, or any affection is for little kids. Gradually, her body language suggests, “I don’t want that from you anymore.”
Ouch. It feels like rejection—but is it? Maybe, she’s just unsure of what she wants, or what feels right, or what is cool. A child lives on a massive learning curve—about herself, her peers, and our relationship, to name a few—so she’s observing other people her age and maybe their parents and trying-on the examples in front of her.
We might be tempted to follow our child’s lead and discontinue affection. But, does that sound wise — to follow our child’s lead?! God appointed us the leader in this relationship. This crossroads is an opportunity to lead with grace. You’ve been her age; step back– into those old shoes; then consider your approach to the current circumstance. Keep in mind, we love our child in response to God’s sustaining love for us—not in response to how our child loves us. Give love through each stage and age, by following God’s lead—not the child’s.
As a child gets older, his need for physical affection doesn’t lessen. More than ever, he benefits from evidence of faithfullove. Peer relationships – in the neighborhood, at school, on a team, or within a club can become fickle and inconsistent. In the home, he needs to experience love consistently. If he doesn’t experience it from us, he may seek it elsewhere. When, where, and how we share affection, especially in public, may change for awhile, until he becomes comfortable with who he is. Practice patience and pray for the relationship you desire.
Maybe your child is older now, and you’re thinking, She did push me away … His body language was clear, or I’ve never been affectionate, and I don’t know how to be. God knows all this. Be still with God, embrace the grace that he pours out on you, and pray. He loves you and your child and has a perfect plan forward.
Here are some prayer examples:
- “God, help me discern and follow your leading. Give me courage and confidence to initiate.”
- “Prepare my child for how and when I give affection. Help me follow your lead. Help him be receptive and comfortable.”
- “Please heal her and heal our relationship. Thank you.”
It’s never too late to add physical affection to a relationship.
For any age child, here are some ways to step-in and practice:
- Place an arm over the back of your child’s chair
- Pat him on the back
- Put your hand on or around her shoulder
- Be playful and tickle
- Hold hands
- Hug – maybe begin with a hug good morning and and a hug good night
- Give a kiss on the forehead, top of the head, or cheek
Some opportunities to practice are:
- During a meal, watching TV, playing a game, hanging out in the yard
- While a child is doing something stationary – like coloring, reading, or homework
- Riding in the car
- In the grocery store line, at church, in a restaurant
Over time and with prayer, affection can become familiar and comfortable. Look for occasions to practice. Aim to begin and end each day demonstrating loveto your child.
Rely on God-to-build his unique design for you and your child as you practice demonstrating love, throughout the years.
In closing, a prayer:
Heavenly Father, You know how deeply I love my child. Even still, help me and grow me, that I demonstrate love in the ways that you desire. Heal me in every way that I need it. And thank you for the confidence that you have in me to tangibly express love to my child. Amen.