“When do I stop babying my son so much? We are very close, and I often hug and kiss him on his cheek and his head. But I wonder, when should I pull back and treat him more as an adult?”
Your relationship with your child reflects closeness and affection, demonstrating a depth of care and emotional connection. Showing affection is essential for helping promote healthy brain development and learning, which will help him grow into a healthy adult.
Le’s first look at the basic science behind why affection and appropriate physical touch is so important. Afterwards we can address the second part of your question and when/how to transition as your child gets older.
Why Affection and Positive Physical Touch Matters
When our brains process positive touch, oxytocin (also known as the “love hormone”) and endorphins are released. These chemical reactions create feelings of happiness. The combination of oxytocin and endorphins help build trust, increase physical healing, boost positive emotions, calm the nervous system, create feelings of safety and provide benefits to both the giver and recipient of the positive physical touch.
When and How to Transition
It’s natural to wonder about when to transition from nurturing and affectionate behaviors towards a more mature, adult-oriented approach. Remembering that positive physical touch provides benefits throughout all life stages, removal of physical affection is not the end goal. Rather, finding the balance between your child’s growing independence, maintaining connection and holding healthy boundaries.
Keeping these in mind, here are some guidelines that will help you navigate the changing relationship with your son as he grows older.
1. Respect Individual Development: Every child develops at their own pace. While affection and closeness are vital, recognizing your child’s growing need for independence and autonomy is equally crucial. Watch for cues from your child that indicate their readiness for a more independent relationship.
2. Age-Appropriate Independence: As children grow, they exhibit a desire for increasing autonomy. This gradual shift can include allowing them to make more decisions for themselves, fostering their problem-solving skills, and gradually reducing physical displays of affection, aligning with their comfort level.
3. Communication is Key: Open communication plays a significant role in this transition. Speaking openly with your child about the changes in your relationship can help them understand the reasons behind the shift and give them a voice in the process.
4. Modeling Boundaries: As a parent, modeling healthy boundaries is essential. Demonstrating appropriate interactions and respecting their personal space can guide them in understanding the norms of mature relationships. As an example, I usually ask my daughters first (now 10 years old) before I give them a hug. If they say no, I respect their choice with no questions asked.
5. Gradual Transition: The shift from parent-child affection to a more adult-like relationship can be a gradual process. It’s about finding a balance that respects their growing independence while still fostering a warm and supportive connection.
In the example of my 10 year old daughters, they both still like hugs, cuddles, and holding hands with me. I keep this in mind and allow them the freedom to choose when and how this affection happens.
6. Individual Preferences: Understand that some children may naturally gravitate towards more physical affection, while others might prefer less. Respecting and understanding their preferences is crucial in developing a relationship that feels comfortable for both of you.
When I look at the differences between my daughters and son, my son has been very affectionate from the time he was young and still is at 8 years old. I also notice differences between my twin daughters that continue to change over time. The point being, the more I’ve paid attention to my children’s preferences and respected their choices, it’s helped.
7. Unconditional Love: Ultimately, the core of your relationship remains rooted in love. Even as the dynamics shift, your unwavering support, love, and guidance will continue to be the cornerstone of your connection with your child.
Remember, transitioning from ‘babying’ to a more mature relationship is a process, not an event. Pay attention to your child’s cues, communicate openly, and gradually adapt your interactions based on their developmental stage and comfort levels.
When kids get physical affection and love from dad – like you’re giving your son, they do better. The attention you’re giving this process will set him up for success in the rest of their life. Keep up the great work and you and your son will benefit for years to come!
About The Author – Drew Soleyn
I’m the Director of Dad Central Ontario, Founder of Connected Dads, and a Career Coach at the Queen's Smith School of Business. As an ICF and Maxwell Leadership certified Coach, Trainer & Speaker, I help struggling dads show up at their best for the people who matter most.