Is Love All Your Child Needs to Be Happy?

We know that unconditional love is critically important to ensure healthy development, and parents can express it differently from infancy to middle childhood. Let’s explore what it looks like at each stage.

Stage 1: Infancy to Early Childhood

In early infancy years, everything is about trust and safety. Consistency and stability are requirements for learning that basic survival needs will be fulfilled. Alleviating hunger, assuring physical safety and comfort, and forming an emotional connection with a dependable caregiver are all akin to survival. An infant that learns to trust that he or she is safe and well cared for will be better equipped both emotionally and in terms of brain development to learn the next set of lessons to enhance future happiness.

Parenting strategy for Stage 1: In this first stage of your child’s development, make sure that his or her basic needs are consistently fulfilled. This will establish trust between you and will teach your child to depend on you to meet his or her needs.

Stage 2: Early Childhood to Middle Childhood

As your child develops language, the ability to communicate through speech, reading and writing greatly facilitates his or her understanding of how things work. Love at this stage can be demonstrated through acknowledgement and letting your child know that he or she is heard, while also helping him or her learn to delay gratification.

As your young child continues to grow, talking, reading and singing to your child will develop not only his or her readiness for formal education, it will also impart a sense of mastery over the world that awaits. Communication skills, both verbal and nonverbal, are building blocks for emotional intelligence, including empathy, balanced relationships, self-discipline and learned optimism.

Parenting strategy for Stage 2: In the second stage of development, acknowledge your child’s needs and wants, and teach gentle lessons about delayed gratification while helping to build communication skills.

Kids who have a positive outlook on life and believe they are valued unconditionally, not because of what they may have accomplished, are destined for greater joy and enthusiasm for life. Teaching these lessons early on will give your child a head start on growing into a happy, healthy adult. To read additional mental health blogs, visit eachmindmatters.org. For local resources about children’s mental health, visit Up2SD.org.

By David A. Young, PhD, MPH