A need for affection!

Hugs, kisses on the cheek, smiles, looks filled with warmth—shows of affection are essential for your child. Not only do they reassure her but they also promote healthy brain development and help her to learn.


Thank goodness for hugs!

When your child receives affection, she feels loved. Being hugged, consoled, rocked, and listened to also help her feel good, reassured and able to open herself up to the world.

By Julie Leduc

When your child receives affection, she feels loved. Being hugged, consoled, rocked, and listened to also help her feel good, reassured and able to open herself up to the world.

Children need to receive affection to develop well. As babies, they depend entirely on their parents. Affection is therefore mostly transmitted through care. “When you’re sensitive to your baby’s needs, when you answer her cries quickly, when you cuddle her as you feed her, when you make sure her diaper is dry, you are showing affection and helping to create a strong parent-child attachment,” explains neuropsychologist Isabelle Bourgault.

When your child receives affection, she understands that she is loved and that she has value. She feels safe, which also works to heighten her self-esteem. This is exactly what your child needs to explore the world around her and to learn new things.

It’s good for the brain

For the brain to develop properly, it needs to be stimulated. That means that when you look at your baby, when you touch him gently and speak to him softly, you not only demonstrate your love, you also promote his brain development. For example, the area associated with memory, learning, and emotional control develops better in a child who receives a lot of affection.

“There’s also evidence that more connections are formed between the neurons of children who receive a lot of love and nurturing,” says George Tarabulsy, professor with the School of Psychology at Université Laval and scientific director of the Centre de recherche universitaire sur les jeunes et les familles du CIUSSS de la Capitale-Nationale. Shows of affection, love and comfort also help toddlers learn to cope better with their emotions. “They’re therefore able to pay more attention to the world around them,” Tarabulsy adds.

Hugs and kisses send feel-good messages to the brain. “When a child is cuddled, comforted and showered with love, he feels good. He feels calm and reassured. He’s less stressed and less anxious, which makes him more receptive to learning,” says neuropsychologist Isabelle Bourgault.

Behaviour and self-confidence

Displays of affection also have a positive effect on child behaviour. “When toddlers feel loved and understood and have confidence in their parents, they tend to collaborate better with them,” explains George Tarabulsy. As a result, they find it easier to follow rules.

Children who get help when they need it and who receive a lot of love also develop a healthy dose of confidence in themselves. “This promotes their independence and their ability to trust others,” says Isabelle Bourgault. “They are able to have positive relationships with others and to seek help from people other than you.”

Different needs at different ages

A child always needs love and affection. However, some needs become more apparent than others at different stages of your child’s development.

From 0 to 1 year old : At this age, affection is transmitted mostly through the care you provide your baby. “What’s most important is answering your baby’s cries and needs and stimulating his senses,” says Isabelle Bourgault. “For example, look at your child and talk to him as you change his diaper. Touch him, pick him up, rock him, carry him and stay close to him so that he can smell you—all this helps him to develop his sense of safety and to create an attachment with you.”

1 to 2 years old : At this age, children build self-confidence, explore, and try new things. They become more independent, but they still have a strong need for reassurance. Routines, for example, bring them a sense of safety and make them feel more confident. These routine moments also give you opportunities to show your affection. For example, you can use wrapping your child up in her towel when she gets out of the bath as an opportunity to give her a big hug, to rock her or to sing her a song before bedtime.

When you give your child affection, you make her feel worthy.

2 to 3 years old : This is the age when children have a need to assert themselves and to do things on their own. Since they are not always able to do what they want and to manage their emotions, they experience a lot of frustration. This brings on temper tantrums. It’s very important to continue to show your child affection, even during a tantrum. You can stay close to make sure he doesn’t hurt himself and then hold him tight to comfort him once the tantrum is over. Afterwards, you can help him put words to what happened. He will gradually learn to accept frustration and to express his hurt or anger in a different way.

3 to 5 years old : Children still need hugs at this age, but they assert their independence more and more and want to be around other children. You can certainly continue to cuddle and rock them, but you also need to respect their limits and not force them into giving or receiving kisses or hugs, says George Tarabulsy, professor with the School of Psychology at Université Laval. “There’s no need to worry—your child will come to you on her own for a cuddle when she needs it.” You can still show affection in other ways, for example by playing with her, encouraging her, or telling her you love her and that you’re proud of her. Tucking your child into bed and taking a moment to listen and talk to her every night can also be a nice way to show her you’re interested in her.

When affection doesn’t come naturally…

Hugs, cuddles and kisses come naturally enough with babies, but some parents become less cuddly as their child grows. Also, if you didn’t receive much affection during your own childhood, you may have difficulty giving it.

Parents who aren’t comfortable with hugs and kisses can just as well show their love in other ways, professor Tarabulsy points out. “Being available for your child, playing with him, telling him a story, talking to him and asking him questions are all wonderful shows of affection.

If a child doesn’t feel well, if he cries or is hurting, physical contact and hugs are important to soothe him, however. You need to know that “a positive reaction is produced when you take a child in your arms and hold him tight—it’s actually good for him,” notes Tarabulsy. “Physical contact helps a child cope with emotions, and children need that.” Neuropsychologist Isabelle Bourgault adds: “If your toddler reaches out to you, you need to pick him up or hug him. It’s important to be sensitive to his need for contact so that he doesn’t feel rejected.”

A thousand ways to show affection!

There are a multitude of ways to show love to a child. Ten parents tell us what they do to display their affection to their young children.

There are a multitude of ways to show love to a child. Ten parents tell us what they do to display their affection to their young children.

“My favourite time of the day is in the mornings, when Ariel comes to us in our bed. On the weekends, the whole family cuddles up like that for a while! Sometimes Ariel will bring a book or a doll to play with. My partner and I also have a little tradition at night before bedtime. We stick our finger against hers, as though we were connected, and tell her: ‘Good night; I love you!’”

Marie-Soleil Pelletier, mom to 4-month-old Rosalie and 2-year-old Ariel

 “In the mornings, to encourage Chloé to eat her breakfast and to make her laugh, I make her a happy face with her fruit. Before dressing her for daycare, she comes to sit on my lap for a cuddle and we watch some TV. She’s a little sleepy and happy to be with me. It’s our special moment!”

Frédéric Hamelin, dad to 2-year-old Chloé
Being affectionate is also spending time with your child, listening to him, showing interest in him, and telling him you’re proud of him.

“I often have Ophélie in my arms and I breastfeed her, just like I did with my boys. For me, it’s a show of affection. With my boys, we have our special moment in the evenings. I give them each a little back rub to help them relax before bed.”

Nathalie Bergeron, mom to 5-month-old Ophélie, 5-year-old Alek, and 7-year-old Lukas

 “When I go to pick up my eldest at daycare, despite the noise and bustle around us, I always take a moment to stop and to look her in the eyes and give her a big hug. It’s worth millions! With my youngest, my affection is mostly shown through breastfeeding. When she falls asleep at night after nursing, it’s pure bliss!”

Julie Racine, mom to 1-year-old Emma and 2 ½-year-old Ellie

“I feel like I’m giving my children affection when I spend time with them. I renovated a little table to set up my son’s train set. We often play there together and my son loves it. With my daughter, we mostly play arts and crafts. Every night before bedtime, I tell them why I love them.”

Isabelle Désormeaux, mom to 2-year-old Nicolas and 5-year-old Rose

 “My little man comes to join me in my bed in the mornings. It’s our special moment for some TLC when we cuddle and I shower him in kisses. He also has a bunch of things to tell me. I don’t know if he’s talking about his dreams or what, but I listen to him. There are always trucks and cars in his stories. He also talks to me about his friends, his cousin, and his grandmother.”

Annie Bélanger, mom to 2-year-old Émile

“I love playing with my son. In the evenings after his bath, we go on our bed for some wrestling time! I make Jayden fall upside-down. Then, when he tries to get up, I push him over and make it impossible for him; I roll him on the bed, grab him by his feet and turn him on his head, and he laughs like crazy!”

Maxime Pearson, dad to 2 ½-year-old Jayden

 “On Saturdays, we do activities together at a gym. There are just dads there playing with their kids. I started going with my daughters when they were 1 and 4 years old. It definitely strengthened the bond between us. We continue to go all together with Émilien. It’s a special time when we simply play, have fun and enjoy being together. It’s a way for me to show them I love them.”

Jean-Philippe Pleau, dad to 15-month-old Émilien,7-year-old Arielle, and 9-year-old Juliette

“I put my nose in my little Anna’s back and pretend to be a dog sniffing her. Sometimes she laughs so much that she can hardly catch her breath! I also have special moments of togetherness with Jeanne, who’s 3 ½ years old. I take her with me to run errands. We put music on in the car and sing. I’m also ‘daddy-fix-it-all’ for her. When a toy is broken or a drawing gets ripped, I fix it while she sleeps and put it where she can see it when she wakes up.”

Johann Mäder, dad to 1-year-old Anna and 3 ½-year-old Jeanne

“Every night after supper, I play with Mathis. Then, I give him his bath, look at a book with him, and rock him before bed. On the weekends, I also like to use a baby carrier to go out with him. I love having him cuddled against me. It’s also a great way to relax him and get him to fall asleep.”

Francis Provencher, dad to 1-year-old Mathis
  • When you show your child affection, you make him feel loved and help him to bond with you.
  • Shows of affection promote your toddler’s brain development.
  • When a child grows up in an affectionate environment, it’s easier for him to learn and to get along well with others.


Naître et grandir

Source : Naître et grandir Magazine, April 2017
Research and copywriting : Julie Leduc
Scientific review : Sylvain Coutu, professor with the psychoeducation and psychology department at Université du Québec en Outaouais


Photos : Gettyimages/Fatcamera, Maxim Morin, Nicolas St-Germain