The Family Project: Affection
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Q. I have two young children. My first child is affectionate and loving, but my second one does not like to be held or cuddled. I am starting to feel as if he doesn’t love me, or that I have done something wrong. Can you tell me why they would be so different?
There are two reasons why this may be happening, according panelist Chad Stefanyak: “First, kids are different; temperaments are different. Everyone has different tolerances for senses. So, one kid likes to be held a lot, and for another kid, just an occasional touch is enough. It’s just that individuals are different.
“The other reason,” Stefanyak continued, “would be that their experiences are different. You can raise kids in the same environment, with the same rules in the same home, but their experiences will be different. So, we can’t assume that a similar environment will result in similar behaviors, and less affection doesn’t necessarily equate to ‘I [the parent] must have done something wrong.’”
Panelist Erin Stalsitz said it would be helpful to know the ages of the children and their genders. She said there’s not enough information to determine if there are some sensory issues, perhaps autism. Is the behavior the same with other family members? Is it something to talk to a pediatrician about, or have the child tested, Stalsitz asked?
“There are so many factors involved,” she continued. “The first child you spent one-on-one time with; the second one, that child had to share time.”
“At the end of the day, maybe nothing is wrong,” Stefanyak suggested.
Pam Wallace provides another perspective: “If this child reacts the same way to the mother that he does to everyone else, then that could project that there could be something wrong. But if he is like that to the mother and different with someone else, it could just mean he feels safe at home with mom and doesn’t need hugging to prove it. It’s OK for the child to feel independent around mother.”
“The problem is the mother is starting to equate hugging with love,” Stefanyak said. “The mother thinks the hugging and cuddling equals the amount he loves her, but the child may just express it in other ways.” He offered yet another explanation: “When the second child was born, the older child may have felt that his relationship with mom was threatened ... he’s losing mom’s time and attention. Mom responds well to hugging and kissing, so the first child really ups the amount of hugs and kisses he is giving mom because he found it was a way to get more of mom’s attention. He stumbled on something that really works. So, this may be more of a reflection of mom than of the two children.”
This week’s team of parenting experts and guest panelists are: Pam Wallace, Program Coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Chad Stefanyak, School Counselor; Erin Stalsitz, Casework Supervisor, Lehigh County Children and Youth, and Denise Continenza, Extension Educator, Food, Families and Health, Penn State Extension
The Family Project weekly column is a collaborative effort between the Leigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child.