More than feelings

Showing affection should be a priority in family life

Showing affection should be a priority in family life

July 18, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

"Les Miserables" author Victor Hugo wrote, "Life's greatest happiness is to be convinced we are loved."

And the best way to express affection is to show it, parenting and marital experts say.

Today's busy couples and families must make showing affection for each other a priority, says Paul Mauchline, managing director of The Art of Loving Institute. The Costa Rica-based organization offers advice about love and relationships, and hosts workshops to promote the importance of love, according to The Art of Loving Web site at

"Love is a continual daily practice," Mauchline said during a recent phone interview from his native Canada. "It comes down to priorities."

Mauchline says marriages suffer because spouses are often more focused on work and children than on each other. Touching, he says, fosters growth and longevity in relationships. It relieves stress. And children who see the adults in their lives holding hands, hugging and engaging in other nonsexual expressions of love learn positive ways to show affection, Mauchline says.


The National Fatherhood Initiative, based in Bethesda, Md., includes showing affection among its "Ten Ways to Be A Better Dad." Hugging children and showing affection for them in other positive ways every day let kids know that parents want and love them, according to information on the organization's Web site at

"Your child craves your touch," says Leslie Haney, parent aide program director at the Parent-Child Center in Hagerstown. "And it helps with your child's esteem if they know they can come up and give you a hug and not be pushed away."

A simple pat on the back can convey a parent's understanding to a child who is angry or frustrated, and seeing adults interact with each other in caring, loving ways teaches children how to treat others with affection, Haney says.

"They really need to see that," she says. "Children who don't get to see a healthy relationship probably won't treat other people with affection."

Behavioral scientists have found that growing children deprived of eye contact, consistent touch and predictable expressions of love develop a sense of extreme emotional deprivation, says Vaughn Crowl, psychology professor at Hagerstown Community College.

"Families with openly grateful hearts and genuinely offered affection produce competent, loving, compassionate and others-centered people," Crowl says. "I believe strongly that people who constantly value others above themselves share a threaded history of having been deeply loved, appreciated and valued in their homes. Consistent gentle touch, eye contact, gracious and tender speech, and open affection toward one another form a spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness and self-control."

Children need to hear affectionate words, such as "I love you" from their parents, often and with sincerity, Josh McDowell writes in his book, "The Disconnected Generation."

"Obviously, if you rattle off these three words like a commercial one hundred times a day, they will lose their impact," writes McDowell, founder of the Texas-based Josh McDowell Ministry. "Affectionate words must come from the heart."

McDowell also suggests such creative expressions of affection as kind words taped to notes posted on a bedroom door or sent via e-mail.

It's important to share physical expressions of love and concern with loved ones - even when you're wrapped up in your own issues and emotions, says Donna Bage, a licensed clinical social worker in Hagers-town.

"We are more than our feelings," Bage says. "That may mean putting on a smile and saying gentle, kind words no matter what our mood."

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