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February 12, 2019

Hugs & Kisses — Love and Affection Help Children Thrive

Hugs and kisses

Five science-backed tips for saying “I love you.”

Something as simple as saying “I love you” or holding a child in a warm hug goes beyond passing feelings. In fact, expressing care can shape how a child’s brain develops and will later process stress and conflict as an adult. The words we say and the love we give make a big difference today and well into the future. It sounds like a no-brainer — of course, feeling loved and having a sense of belonging is important to every person.

As grownups, some of us are set in our ways. And not all of us are used to saying those three little words often. Some of us may not feel comfortable hugging or sharing sweet compliments with other people — regardless of our feelings for them. So, while these tips are science-based ideas for showing your little one they are loved, they can also be goals for families who want to expand the way they communicate at home and beyond.

1) Tell your children what you like about them.

“Good job! You completed the puzzle all by yourself!”

Words of affirmation help children develop a positive sense of self. They also help kids overcome fears and accept disappointments. In other words: Telling your little learner what you like about them helps them feel good about who they are. For people who are not used to paying compliments, saying things you like about others might not come naturally. And a lack of positive feedback sometimes means that our little ones only hear what we think about them when they get in trouble. Next time you hang out together, say simple things like “I love how silly you get when we get ice cream” or “When you take turns so well, it tells me you really know how to share.”

Celebrating every time your little learner hits a developmental milestone is another way to tell them how you feel. Celebrating means that you are noticing their growth and the hard work they’ve put into becoming who they are. So, be sure to say “good job!” when your baby starts crawling or is able to stand on their own. Encourage them by cheering them on: say “You are doing great!” after your little one draws a scribble, traces a letter or writes their name for the very first time.

Need help tracking your child’s milestones? Try this tool.

2) Hug and kiss your little learner once a day.

More and more, research is helping us learn that physical touch is important at all stages of life. But for little ones, who are learning about who they are and who they will be, physical affection can shape a child’s happiness for life. Hugs help you connect with your child, but the benefits go beyond emotional bonds. Hugs can also protect against stress and improve physical health.

Not in the habit of giving hugs? Start with side-by-side cuddle time. Dancing or reading books together can also help you find reasons to cuddle and hug once a day.

3) Say “I love you.”

“I love you so much.”

There are so many perfect times to tell your little one, “I love you!” You can say it in the morning, when your little one opens their eyes. Or write it in a little note and then put it in your child’s lunch box. Before you say goodbye at child care or grandpa’s house, high-five them and then say, “I love you, and I hope you have a great day.”

There are many ways to tell your child that you love them, and you probably have lots of fun ways already. But there are also other ways of saying it, like when you show patience and kindness as they struggle with learning, or when you cuddle and show them you like spending time with them. What matters is that your child knows that they are loved. Feeling secure about your love can have a huge impact in your child’s life. Children who receive more affection in their childhood are less likely to become anxious or depressed.

Do you want some help warming up to saying “I love you” more often? Check out these tips from

4) Model positive self-esteem behaviors.

You are your child’s first and best teacher! And you can teach your child that liking things about ourselves is a good thing. Let your little learner hear you say things like “I am really good at driving our car” or “I like that I know how to be a good friend.” Showing kindness to yourself when you make mistakes shows your child they can be kind to themselves too.

Which leads us to…

5) Remind them you still love them even in difficult moments.

Say it with words of affirmation: “I can see you are still learning.” Or give them a hug to help them calm down. Let them know that you love them and accept them in their learning journey. Need more ideas for saying “I love you” in tough moments? Try these phrases from

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