Since affectivity and emotions were put at the center of scientific discussions, much of psychology and pedagogy has been interested in studying how the affective experience impacts on the construction of the personality, especially during the early stages of development.

Thus, the affective dimension and its relationship with psychological development in childhood have had a significant impact on education. That is why we will present below several signs of lack of affection in boys and girls , followed by a brief discussion on the opposite extreme: the excess of affection.

The importance of affection in childhood

The affective dimension is currently considered one of the keys to psychological development. In other words, how affection is given and shared has to do with the development of identity and psychological maturation from childhood .

Affection, understood here as affinity, closeness, sympathy or affection; it is not something acquired in isolation. It is a process that takes place while we relate to others , and given that the first people we relate to are our primary caregivers (whether they are family members or not), it is also these caregivers who help us to consolidate and make sense of our affective experiences; experiences that, when integrated, generate frames of reference and action.

The child’s immediate environment is the one that presents the world to him or her; and the kind of affection he or she receives there is the same that he or she would expect to receive in environments outside the world. In the same way, the affection that the child receives in his or her immediate environment is the same that he or she will learn to have as a resource available to offer in other environments.

Thus, the affection that the child receives from his or her primary caregivers , is an important part of what will help him or her identify and relate in one way or another beyond his or her first environment.

4 signs of lack of affection in children

While all our relationships are mediated by an affective dimension, talking about a lack of affection does not mean that affective responses or emotions have completely disappeared. Rather, it means that these responses are being produced in an insufficient or unreciprocated manner.

Having said this, the lack of affection during childhood can manifest itself in many ways , but it is in the social dimension where it is usually most evident, since, through emotions (among other factors) we present ourselves before the world and relate to it.

Thus, four of the signs that may indicate that a child is in a situation of lack of affection are poor emotional control, conflictive relationships, personal insecurity, and negative self-concept.

1. Poor control of your emotions

Perhaps this is the clearest sign that there is a lack of affection. If the child has had the opportunity to develop in a balanced affective environment, he or she will most likely recognize the different emotions and the social norms that accompany them.

If the opposite has occurred, the child is likely to have difficulty, for example, in tolerating frustration or in knowing how to express anger or vulnerability.

In addition, emotional deficits can impact children differently. Children are generally educated to be more intolerant of displays of affection, which also means that they develop more resources to deal with a possible lack of affection, at least at the private level. Due to the same gender socialization, children tend to have less control over emotions such as anger in public spaces.

Girls, on the other hand, are generally educated to develop in an important way the affective dimension, so that they manage to be empathetic and receptive towards others and towards the needs of others; with which, they may find it harder to assimilate such deficiencies, and channel the lack of affection towards themselves.

2. Isolation or conflicting relationships with peers

In the midst of the affective experiences, we establish a rapprochement and a certain type of relationship. For example, we may tend to isolate ourselves or to be outgoing, to feel comfortable with hugs when greeting, or to feel uncomfortable in spaces with many people, etc, according to the emotions we bring into play in each context and according to how we have been socialized and socialized .

Related to the above, lack of affection can cause the child to develop little empathy, which can also complicate his or her interpersonal bonds, as well as recognition or respect for the emotions of others.

3. Tendency to insecurity

A large part of the scientific community agrees that the affective dimension is one of the ways by which children acquire security and build a concept of themselves. Thus, a lack of affection can lead to an insecure personality.

This insecurity can manifest itself through defensive behaviour, or through a withdrawal due to fear of facing new situations that generate emotions over which the child feels no control or that seem strange to him/her.

For the same reason, a significant lack of affection can lead to excessive submission to rules and a rigid and anxious personality ; or the opposite, constant defiant behaviour and a lack of respect for the limits of others, since these would be the most accessible ways for the child to compensate for the felt insecurity and thus maintain a feeling of certainty that would relieve him/her.

4. Negative self-concept and recurrent guilt

Related to the previous point, the affective dimension has an important impact on the opinion we form about ourselves. The lack of affection transmits a message of little or no recognition of ourselves .

In other words, it can lead to value judgments about themselves being more negative than positive, or insisting on blaming themselves for everything negative that happens around them.

Lack of affection vs. excessive affection

Unfortunately emotional deprivation can have some undesirable consequences for children , both at the individual level (psychological) and at the level of interpersonal relationships.

However, it is important to look for alternatives based on the consideration that, in many circumstances, caregivers are unable to provide a stable emotional structure for reasons beyond their control.

For example, the great deficiencies in care practices that have emerged following recent socio-economic transformations, which have forced the realignment of family and productive roles and transformed the responsibilities of traditional caregivers.

In the face of this, different spaces and compensatory practices are generated. For example, formal education and the role of teachers has been positioned lately as an important source of affection .

On the other hand, one of the most common compensatory practices is for caregivers to try to compensate for emotional deficits by means of excessive material rewards, such as toys or electronic devices.

Of course the material and recreational dimension is necessary, however, it is important to know that these elements do not have the same symbolic and bodily effect as affection, so they do not represent a definitive substitute in the long term.

Finally, and in contrast to the lack of affection, many children are in an excessive emotional situation . In light of this, it is important to recognize that excessive affection, or overprotection (for example, when absolutely everything is resolved for them for fear that they will become frustrated), has the same psychological effect as a lack of affection or abandonment: the message is conveyed to them that they are incapable of relating to and responding to the world, which creates defenselessness and can generate the signals that we developed earlier.

Bibliographic references:

  • Maldonado, C. and Carrillo, S. (2006). Educating with affection: characteristics and determinants of the quality of the child-teacher relationship. Revista Infancia Adolescencia y Familia, 01(001): 33-60.
  • González, E. (2002). Educating in affectivity. Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Retrieved May 8, 2018. Available at