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Mental Health

Affection for my Toddler

07/28/2008

Question:

Hi, this is a question about mental health of children. Frequently - several (say 5 or more) times a day, my husband asks our 2.5 year old son if he wants hugs or cuddles. And frequently my son says he does. As a family we strongly believe in providing our children with much nurturance and responsivness to their emotional needs. I was wondering, however, whether my husbands tack of often asking my son if he can have physical affection, might have a detrimental effect on my son. In other words, could this inadvertantly impose a sense that it`s somehow his (I.E. my son`s) reponsibiltiy to care for his father`s needs for affection. thanks

Answer:

I believe that what you are saying is that you believe your husband might be asking your son if he wants a hug in order to fulfill your husband's need for touch and closeness rather than your son's need for affection from his parents. If this is the issue, it sounds as though it might be helpful to reflect upon how your relationship is going with your husband. 

Are you both physically affectionate and close with one another on a regular basis? Have you grown apart through the trials and tribulations of daily life and parenting? It's a good idea check with your husband, too, and see if he shares your evaluation of the strength of your relationship as husband and wife. This is so difficult a thing to do for many of us. We fear hearing that all is not well from our partner's point of view and learning that he or she may or may not be willing to work on the quality of the relationship.

If your husband asks why you want to talk about your relationship, you have the perfect opening for expressing your concern about how well his own needs for affection are being met, given his frequent inquiries to your son about his need for hugs. The greatest danger to your son's well being is from unhappy parents who decide to separate or divorce, turning his safe, predictable, and loving world upside down.

I hope this provides a good place to start in addressing this sensitive issue.

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Response by:

Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN
Professor of Clinical Nursing
College of Nursing
The Ohio State University