My Grandad is a very wise man. One of the things he’s always said about parenting is that children can cope with nearly anything, so long as they receive plenty of demonstrative love and, you know, I think he’s right.
Lots of issues with children can be solved simply by realising that you haven’t been showing your child you love them much recently, and rectifying it. Obviously lots need more than that, but often it’s just a feeling of security in their parents’ love that gives children the strength to deal with something themselves.
I explained, in this Tantrum Checklist post about insecurity, how a child needs to physically feel your love; that just saying it isn’t really enough, hence the word demonstrative in my Grandad’s little gem of parenting advice.
But in our eagerness to ensure our children feel loved by us, is it possible for us to overdo it? I recently had a conversation with a mum who told me that her parents had smothered her with cuddles, and it had driven her so mad that she tried to hold back when she felt like she wanted to cuddle her own kids.
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this but, you know, I think this has less to do with cuddles and more to do with respect. If you don’t respect your child’s need to have control over their own body by cuddling them even when they’re not interested, then they feel claustrophobic and it can damage your relationship with them just as much as withholding physical affection can.
Really, this has nothing to do with counting how many cuddles you give your child, or how often you give them. It even has nothing to do with making sure that you give an equal number to each child! What it does relate to is respect and taking your child seriously.
If you respect and take your child seriously, you are not likely ever to over- or under-cuddle him because you will be listening to him. You will be taking the cues he sends you that he needs more love at one time, or less. You will be sensitive to the times when he submits to a cuddle just to please you, and you will not push for one if he shakes his head and says he’s too busy playing. And, when he asks for a cuddle, you will try to say yes as often as possible but you will also respect and take yourself seriously so that if you are also not able to cuddle your child right now, you will say so, kindly and with the promise of a cuddle very soon when you have calmed down/finished stirring the custard.
This last part is important. Ideally, children grow up with a strong sense of self, and a strong knowledge that they can and should say ‘no’ to things. They will grow up understanding about personal boundaries, and are less likely to find themselves in damaging relationships where they submit to things simply because they don’t value themselves as people enough.
In addition, a reluctant cuddle is, in my opinion, probably worse than none at all. Children are not stupid. They know when our heart’s not in a cuddle, and it will simply defeat the object. A cuddle is mean to transmit love physically to your child. A reluctant cuddle just transmits resentment. Far better to be kindly honest with your child, and ask him to respect your need to control your personal boundaries just as you respect his.
One last point: don’t feel bad if you find that one of your children seems to have far more cuddles than another. Just like adults, all children are different and they all have different needs. It’s OK if one child needs more than others. What you don’t want is to be taking one of your children’s needs more seriously than another’s.
In conclusion: yes, you can give your child too many cuddles, but too many cuddles simply means cuddling your child too much for him, and too few cuddles means not cuddling your child enough for him.
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Image: DerPlau, Flickr