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The love languages of kids: How toddlers show affection

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan is a journalist, humour columnist, and a mum who has survived nappy explosions mid-air. She has over a decade of experience writing for print and online publications and is currently working on her first book.
Created on Oct 30, 2023 · 6 mins read

I don’t remember the first time it happened, but pretty soon it had become routine. My toddler had decided that he wanted to sleep with his hand on my face every day.


Every afternoon nap and every 7 p.m. bedtime, he would crawl into bed and close his eyes. Then his tiny palms would find their way to my face. And there they would stay till his tiny body fell into a deep sleep.

And I loved it.

I didn’t care if they smelled of balloons or paint; and I knew that they would probably lead to a new zit the next morning because that’s how my skin worked.

At that moment, all that mattered was that this was my child’s way of finding comfort. That little gesture was his way of communicating with the adult. It was how he told me he loved me.

How do toddlers show they love you?


Unfortunately, that’s not the only way toddlers communicate their affection.

My toddler has run after me with a bug he caught once because I pretended to be scared of it. He squealed with joy as I feigned being afraid and then he continued to explain why it wasn’t really scary and that I would be okay. That was his way of engaging with his mother.

Even now, as he’s older, he’ll sometimes try to do something silly like lick my hand just to get my attention and, in some way, connect with me.

The truth is, toddlers have their own love language and their own unique ways of showing love and connecting with others. Even two siblings, born and raised in the same household, may have different ways to show their parents affection.


How to identify your child’s love language


I’ll be honest: There were days when the laundry was overflowing, I had work, and I had an endless list of items on my to-do list.

And all my toddler wanted to do was play with me.
Why? Because that was his way of connecting.

And as a parent, I had to learn my child’s nonverbal cues for affection. At that point, I just wanted to tell him, “Buddy, I have so much work to do. I don’t have the time to play.”

But I was worried that he would have translated me saying that as “Sorry, I don’t love you” (which, of course, was not nor would it ever would be the case).

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How to decode your toddler


Every kid has their own preferences, and by learning their “love language,” a parent can better connect with and provide for their emotional health.

Not sure how to understand these? Well, here are some ways they speak of love:

Cuddles and battles


Toddlers frequently express their love through physical contact. They may tightly hug, hold, snuggle, or cling to you. When it’s hot and humid, that clinginess may feel annoying or even come off as a lack of confidence in them. But, most times, it is nothing but a pure display of affection by your little one.

Play with me, Mummy


Some kids love quality time above all else. They want your full attention and want you to participate in activities with them. Take note of their need for one-on-one engagement, their delight in shared experiences, and their passion for storytelling or group activities, because this is their way of telling you that they love you.

Verbal validation


Toddlers who respond positively to words of affirmation thrive on verbal praise and encouragement. Be mindful of what you say to your child, and never miss an opportunity to let the little champ know how good they are at something and how much they are loved!

Top Tip: Morning hugs and bedtime conversations are great times to have real conversations and tell them how much you mean to them.

Gifts


While not so common at this age, many children love giving and receiving gifts. It may be something as small as a twig or a candy wrapper, or even a few scribbles on a piece of art paper; your child gifting it to you is their way of showing love.

Acts of service


Despite their limited abilities, toddlers can nevertheless demonstrate love through small acts of service.

“I want to help you, Mummy.”

I remember this one time I got a new pair of shoes, and my toddler got down and tried to help me put them on. It was the sweetest thing, and fortunately, I had my phone next to me and was able to capture that moment.

So take note of their attempts to assist or copy your actions. Make children feel loved, acknowledge their efforts, and include them in age-appropriate tasks.

It’s also a great way to teach them to say “please” and “thank you.”

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Why do toddlers show affection?


Toddlers are incredibly affectionate, often showering their loved ones with hugs, kisses, and cuddles. (Enjoy them when they last because as they get older, you’ll miss them terribly!).

While their displays of affection may seem instinctual, they serve a crucial role in their emotional development.

Toddlers view affection and quality time as means of building trust with others. Through contact, quality time, and affirmation, they learn to trust their caretakers. Feeling loved and secure helps toddlers develop a healthy attachment style and fearlessly explore their surroundings.

Similarly, expressing and receiving affection play a pivotal role in the emotional development of young kids and help develop empathy, compassion, and connectedness. These emotional skills build successful relationships and social interactions.

If you wish for your child to be a strong individual when they grow up, give them as much love, encouragement, and praise as possible to boost their little self-esteem. When parents show compassion and gratitude, toddlers develop self-esteem and talent confidence. Praise and touch teach children self-worth from a young age.

Affection is also an effective strategy for improving the link between parents and their children. Regular expressions of love and affection establish a strong emotional bond, fostering a sense of intimacy and trust.

Why does my toddler resist affection?


If your kid isn’t a hugger, don’t take it personally. There are several reasons why some toddlers might not want to be cuddled, held, or hugged.

It’s important to keep in mind that at this age, kids are still developing their identities and interests. Here are some reasons why your toddler might not want to be cuddled:

Autonomy and independence


“Myself!”
“No, I do it!”
Independence and a growing sense of agency are hallmarks of the toddler years.

Overstimulation


Touch, like other forms of sensory input, can easily overwhelm a child. When overstimulated or in need of time alone to evaluate their environment, they may avoid displays of affection.

Mood and temperament


Children, like adults, have many emotions and temperaments; some toddlers are more reticent or self-sufficient and less interested in physical engagement. Recognising and accommodating their preferences is crucial.

If your toddler isn’t affectionate in one way, they’ll have a different way of showing their love. All you have to do now is understand their language.


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