Meeting the Emotional Needs of Your Children

Show your child love and warmth.

Your child needs your nurturing, soft touch as much as he or she needs food.

Not that it’s a competition. Children need both their physical and emotional needs met. But the emotional needs sometimes go unnoticed and unmet, and the deficits their neglect causes can go undetected until it’s too late.

In what is now widely considered a classic study into maternality and the hierarchy of childhood needs, Harry Harlow sought insights into the role that social relationships play in early human development, especially a mother’s role. He studied mother-infant attachment.

In the 1950s and 60s, psychology research in the US was dominated by behaviorists and psychoanalysts, who claimed that babies became attached to their mothers because they provided food. Harlow and other social and cognitive psychologists argued that this perspective overlooked the importance of comfort, companionship, and love in promoting healthy development.

In his studies, Harlow looked at the behavior of newborn primates who were taken from their biological mothers and offered one of two inanimate surrogate mothers: one was a simple construction of wire and wood, and the other was covered in foam rubber and soft terry cloth.

The infants were assigned to one of two conditions. In the first, the wire mother had a milk bottle and the cloth mother did not; in the second, the cloth mother had the food while the wire mother had none.

In both conditions, Harlow found that the infant monkeys spent significantly more time with the soft cloth mother than they did with the wire mother. When only the wire mother had food, the babies came to the wire mother to feed and immediately returned to cling to the cloth surrogate.

Other studies also expanded on this insight into child development needs: infants also turned to inanimate surrogate mothers for comfort when they were faced with new and scary situations.

When put in a new environment with a surrogate mother, infant monkeys would explore the area, run back to the surrogate mother when startled, and then venture out to explore again. Without a surrogate mother, the infants were paralyzed with fear, huddled in a ball sucking their thumbs. If an alarming noise-making toy was placed in the cage, an infant with a surrogate mother present would explore and even venture to attack the toy. But without a surrogate mother, the infant would cower in fear.

Psychologists have concluded from these and many similar studies that in order for infants to develop normally, the presence of a mother is absolutely critical. And not just any kind of mother or one who simply provides food–but a mother who offers a safe haven, a grounding home base, and a soft maternal warmth.

In our modern keeping-up-with-the-Jonses rat-race culture of both parents out working much of the day, returning home exhausted and stressed, sometimes we give primacy to the physical needs of our children, and forget their intangible emotional needs.

Sometimes it’s necessary for both parents to work outside the home just to put food on the table. But other times, both parents work because they want the biggest house, the nices car, and the latest smartphones.

Sometimes we make sure to provide the best food and the trendiest clothes and the latest toys for our kids, but forget to give hugs, kisses, and smiles.

Dear parents, make sure your child feels secure in your love and feels your soft touch.

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