The Importance of Affection

Young smiling couple enjoying in their love while having cup of coffee at home.
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Valentine’s Day is here, and many couples—yes, even parents—have plans for the big day. But the affection you show your partner also plays an important role in the lives of your children.

“It’s important for children to realize and see that their parents are showing affection because it’s a modeling system,” Lillian Morales says.

Morales is a licensed clinical professional counselor (LCPC) with Thriveworks in Owings Mills. She has been a practicing therapist for six years, including three years strictly working with middle school and elementary school -aged children.

The relationship between a child’s parents is the first relationship kids see aside from their own relationship with their parents. According to Morales, this is where children are learning what’s healthy, what’s unhealthy and what affection is supposed to look like.

“We are our children’s role models. They’re like sponges—they are soaking in everything. How are you going to model love, kindness and caring unless they see it in how you interact parent to parent?” asks Terry Nguyen, Greater Baltimore Medical Center’s chair of pediatrics.

Here are a few words of guidance for parents in how to show love for your partner on the good days and the bad days.

Be My Valentine

Continuing to date your partner throughout raising children together is important for the health of your relationship. But with young children, prying yourself away for an evening to yourselves—like on Valentine’s Day—can be a challenge.

While these children may struggle to understand the holiday, parents can make it easier on their children and reassure them by finding ways to include them in it.

One way to share your valentine is to have a Valentine’s night for parents and a separate Valentine’s time for family. For young children, this might look like sitting in a circle or around the table and having everyone say one thing they love about the person to the left. Families can also try making Valentine’s Day cookies or smoothies.

Everyday Affection

While big dates like your anniversary or birthday are important, it’s the regular day-in-day-out love for each other that is the most important for kids to see. This can be a hug, a snuggle on a cold day, a kiss on the cheek once you’re both home from work or holding hands on a family stroll.

These small but consistent gestures help kids feel secure and strengthen their perception of their family unit’s stability.

However, not all affection is physical. Most of the time, parents say “I love you” with a million smaller actions throughout the day. Maybe you set the table, pack a lunch or make breakfast for your partner.

But the bottom line is, there’s no one right or wrong way to show affection. What’s normal for your family may vary depending on culture, upbringing and personal preferences.

Healthy Disagreement

One of the most important times to show affection is when you and your partner are disagreeing. When a couple has contrasting views on something, it’s important for kids to see the love shine through, according to Morales.

When something is wrong, children will know. Even when parents try to be discreet or speak vaguely, Morales says kids can feel it when the tone shifts.

“Kids can sense it, even if you don’t say anything. Your body language changes, your facial expression changes—I don’t know how many times I have heard people say, ‘I wish my parents hadn’t stayed together, because they thought they were doing something better by staying together for us kids but we knew they really detested each other,’” Nguyen says.

Of course, nobody is perfect. Parents will make mistakes, but what’s important is how they come back from them. According to Nguyen, being able to say you’re sorry and take ownership of mistakes is also important to model to kids.

Parents can show they still love their partner, even in a disagreement, by taking the time to listen and understand, or attempt to understand, what their partner is saying and giving them that space. This can look like taking turns and putting the brakes on the conversation when needed.

“Sometimes, you need to kind of walk away or pause and say, ‘I can’t talk about this right this minute, but I can do so later on today,’” Morales says.

Being open and actively considering the other person’s point of view keeps the conversation respectful and teaches children empathy, listening skills and conflict resolution. Another way to help children feel secure is for parents to make sure they continue doing all the little things they do that show their affection for each other. For example, if you always make lunch for your partner, keep it up.

Valentine’s Day will be here before you know it, so keep these tips in mind leading up to the big day—and every day—and spread the love.

About Heather M. Ross

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