What Kids Learn from Your Marriage

The importance of affection

Love Lesson: Show Affection

While most parents instinctively understand the importance of being affectionate with their kids, some overlook the fact that it's critical for them to see Mom and Dad being demonstrative toward each other. "Our parents' relationship is a training ground for our own," explains Melody Brooke, marriage and family therapist in Richardson, Texas. Children who grow up in a house where their parents don't show affection for each another in front of them can grow up being uncomfortable with intimacy in their own relationships, she adds.

Just as children raised in violent homes are apt to continue that cycle, kids who witness loving contact will take those lessons into their own future family. "By demonstrating appropriate, tender ways to be affectionate, we teach our children at a young age what is okay and what isn't -- which is especially important when we aren't around," explains Beverly Hills psychiatrist Carole Lieberman, M.D., best-selling author and host of the radio show Dr. Carole's Couch. It also reinforces the idea that the world is a safe place, something children can't hear or see often enough.

It's important not to show affection with your spouse only when he's done something to make you happy. Instead, you might want to go out of your way to let your kids see you hugging your hubby when you pass him in the hall or asking him to sit with you on the couch during family movie time. "Children need to get the message that people don't have to be perfect to be loved," explains Virginia Barlow, M.D., a family-practice physician in Potsdam, New York. This means that while Dad is certainly entitled to a hearty high five when he fixes the leaky sink, it's the for-no-special-reason squeezes that ultimately mean the most. (Of course, this applies to the affection you show your children too.)

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