Once you add a baby to your family, you might at some point start to wonder if you should show affection toward your partner in front of your children. This is a common question many parents wonder about.
In short, the answer is yes. You should absolutely show affection toward your partner in front of your children to a certain extent.
Whether you do or don’t show affection toward your partner in front of your children will affect them not only in the present but also later in life. (Read more about how your marriage affects your children here).You have a lot of control when children are young to shape their behavior and expectations of others later in life. Putting appropriate affectionate gestures on display can teach children about respectful, loving, and fulfilling relationships. What you and your partner model for your children now will be echoed in their own behavior within their marriage and family.
One of the biggest ways children learn is through observational learning.
Observational learning occurs when children witness something, remember it, and call that information up later as a reference on what to do.
For example: a toddler picks up a cell phone (a remote, a toy phone, a banana) and puts it up to his ear. “Hello?” Thank you! OK. Bye bye!” This toddler was likely never directly taught what a phone was for or what to say while talking on it. However, after repeated observation of adults using the phone, the child has now learned what to do with it. This is a prime example of an outcome of observational learning. (Adults commonly practice observational learning as well. It’s the main reason tutorial videos on everything from how to fix your lawnmower to how to write a resume are so popular on YouTube.) We learn best by watching.
In showing affection toward your partner in front of your children, you teach them what a caring relationship looks like. You teach them not to be cold to one another but to openly show your love, appreciation, and respect for the person you care most about. They learn that showing affection for others and others showing affection for you is normal and healthy.
The caveat to this is that you must be conscientious of what is appropriate and what is not. You can set your child up to be a great partner to their spouse and search for a spouse who has positive qualities, BUT you can also do the exact opposite.
Some couples hide almost all affection from their children. They don’t hug or kiss their spouse in public or around their children. Kids who grow up in this kind of environment may think that affection isn’t normal or acceptable, or they may question whether their parents love each other. Later in life they may be uncomfortable showing affection or receiving it. That could pose a challenge in their inter-personal relationships.
Consider what is appropriate.
The caring and loving gestures I am writing about are not sexual. Sexually motivated gestures are inappropriate for display around children. This includes playful sexual comments and actions. Children who witness sexualized behavior are more likely to engage in sexually inappropriate behavior.
Go for respectful, supportive gestures such as (G rated) kissing, holding hands, hugging, compliments, and affirmations.
Don’t teach your children that kissing is “gross.” Kissing is not gross. It’s a gesture that is incredibly ingrained in humanity and one that is important to a healthy relationship. Instead of teaching that “kissing is gross,” have an open discussion about kissing (as is age appropriate). Think about the social structure within your family to determine what is appropriate. For example, some families only hug extended family members and don’t kiss, and some families peck everyone on the lips. Encourage your child’s choice to kiss someone. Don’t ever force your child to kiss family members or anyone else.
Love and affection are basic human needs for almost everyone. Showing affection toward your partner in front of your children can set the stage for successful relationships for your kids later in life and can help develop their social-emotional skills.
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