Parental Affection Shapes a Child’s Happiness for Life

Research over the past decade has highlighted the link between parental affection in childhood and their future health. In fact, the research also proves how a parent’s love shapes a child’s happiness in the future.
Parental Affection Shapes a Child’s Happiness for Life
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 12 January, 2022

You’ve probably heard the words that “you get the love you think you deserve.” As a matter of fact, in reality, the parental affection you experienced as a child tends to determine the kind of affection you hope to receive from others. Indeed, your relationships and their quality are mediated, to a great extent, by the type of bond you established with your caregivers.

It’s more than 50 years since the psychologist Albert Ellis pointed out that the moment the love of parents ceases to be unconditional, problems appear in the emotional development of the child. Indeed, those first patterns in terms of validation, affection, or disaffection build a child’s first perceptions of interpersonal relationships.

Whether you like it or not, it’s in childhood and adolescence that your psychological account of what human love is like is based. Enriching experiences give you security and confidence. On the other hand, if your early years were full of deficiencies or fear, you become hungry for love yet afraid of it at the same time.

Research suggests that having loving parents allows you to develop stronger and happier relationships in adulthood.

Parental affection defines you

As important as feeding, caring for, and giving a home to a child is nurturing them with healthy love. In fact, while it’s true that no one comes into the world with a manual for being the perfect father or mother, there’s something that can’t be denied. This is the fact that it’s essential for children to feel loved, validated in their every need, kept safe, and accompanied every step of the way in their journey through childhood.

As a matter of fact, the parental affection you experienced as a child defines you, for better or for worse. In this respect, Harvard University (USA) conducted research that demonstrated how the affective warmth of parents mediates the psychological flourishing of children. On the other hand, realities such as abuse, neglect, or lack of attachment are related to the appearance of mental health problems at some point in the individual’s life.

Everything that happens in your childhood has an impact on you as an adult. For example, if you were overprotected, it tends to make you relationally sensitive and anxious. On the other hand, if you were physically and psychologically abused, you may experience a distinct difficulty in showing your feelings. Furthermore, the marks of violence experienced or observed within your family also mediate the type of relationships you establish as an adult.

Your type of childhood attachment impacts your adulthood

One of the most common theories when it comes to explaining why the way you were loved as a child determines your adult life was the one defined by psychologists Cindy Hazan and Phillip Shaver. It was in the late 80s when they enunciated their theory of love. This was in a study based on the types of attachment defined by the psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, John Bowlby.

John Bowlby’s types of attachment

  • Insecure-ambivalent attachment. In this type of attachment, the child has one or two unpredictable parents. Sometimes they’re available and affectionate. However, later, they may be cold, aggressive, or inattentive to the child altogether. This attachment style results in jealous, apprehensive adults, who are fearful of abandonment. they’re also insecure and can even be contradictory. For example, they may be affectionate today and distant tomorrow.
  • Insecure-avoidant attachment. Another type of problematic attachment is one in which the demands and needs of the child are neglected. The child is ridiculed as being weak for needing closeness and affection. Their emotions are invalidated, and their personality, dignity, and self-esteem are violated. The way this type of attachment impacts the adult is evident. For them, affection is a threat, and love hurts and betrays so it’s better to avoid it. In fact, these people will seldom achieve authentic intimacy.
  • Disorganized. This is the most damaging type of attachment. In this case, the caregivers are violent and leave a mark of trauma on the child’s mind. The effect that this may have on their relational level as an adult is extremely complex and can even be contradictory. For example, they’re unstable, lack confidence, and they demonstrate a need for excessive attachment.
  • Secure attachment. Developing with parents capable of giving security in each area directly influences your personal well-being. Indeed, when you grow up feeling loved, you become, as a rule, an adult who also knows how to love.

The love they gave you isn’t always the one you deserved

The way in which you were loved as a child conditioned you in certain ways. Your parents modeled you. They had the opportunity to teach you the value and warmth of hugs. On the other hand, perhaps they educated you with shouting or emotional reinforcement. It was they who either gave you wings to fly or chains to bind you and to make you believe that you didn’t deserve to fight for your dreams.

Their words were installed in your mind. In fact, it’s possible that you still give them credence, even now. Furthermore, this psychological legacy has an impact on the way you love your partner. Therefore, it would appear that you’re a prisoner of the education and treatment you received in your childhood. However, it shouldn’t be like that. As a matter of fact, it’s never too late to break with that model and change those unhealthy patterns.

What you must be clear about is that you deserve a good, enriching, and healthy love. Nevertheless, you won’t be able to receive it from others if you don’t consider you’re worthy of it. In order to achieve this, you must start by supplying it to yourself. Indeed, self-love and self-esteem can heal many of those childhood wounds.

Only when you truly love yourself, will you be able to love others in a mature way and be able to build happy and stable relationships.


All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Chen Y, Kubzansky LD, VanderWeele TJ. Parental warmth and flourishing in mid-life. Soc Sci Med. 2019 Jan;220:65-72. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2018.10.026. Epub 2018 Oct 30. PMID: 30396119; PMCID: PMC6309475.
  • Shaver PR, Hazan C. A Biased Overview of the Study of Love. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 1988;5(4):473-501. doi:10.1177/0265407588054005

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.