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7 signs that your baby loves you
She stares into your eyes: Newborns love to look at faces, and yours is her favorite. That soulful gaze is a hardwired survival instinct designed to attract love and attention from a caregiver, says neuroscientist Lise Eliot. But it's also the beginning of her love for you – she's realizing just how important you are in her life.
He recognizes your smell: Given the choice between a dozen fragrant roses and your sweaty, milk-stained T-shirt, your baby will go for the shirt every time. "Even a 1-week-old will turn his head toward a breast pad soaked with his mother's milk," says Eliot. To your newborn, nothing smells sweeter than you.
She smiles at you: The first time your baby gives you a true, fabulous grin is a magical moment. It's her way of saying "I love you."
He talks to you: Your baby's very earliest coos will be directed at you or another trusted caregiver, says Eliot – he won't start by talking to himself. He'll use this early language (called protoconversation) to engage with you, so answer back! You're both laying the groundwork for real conversation later.
She wants you around: About halfway through your baby's first year, you'll notice that she's not happy with your absence. She may scrunch up her face or cry when you step out of the room, and she'll smile upon your return – a sign of her growing attachment.
He shares your interests: Whether it's a display of holiday lights or the dirty laundry, if you scrutinize it, your baby will do the same. Called mutual attention, this behavior can start when your baby is just a few months old, but it's more pronounced at 9 to 12 months. "It's a sign that your child is engaged with you and values what you're paying attention to," says pediatrician Harvey Karp.
She uses you as a shield: Don't be surprised if your baby buries her head in your chest when someone new appears on the scene. "Stranger anxiety" is a normal phase, and turning to you for protection means your baby loves you and trusts you to keep her safe.
7 signs that your toddler loves you
He mirrors your face: Your facial expressions are more contagious to your child than the freshest virus at daycare. This is why he'll often smile when you smile or look anxious when you're afraid. This mirroring begins in the newborn period, but increases dramatically between the ages of 9 and 18 months, says Karp.
She takes her cues from you: How would your 1-year-old react to an elephant frying an egg in the kitchen? Chances are, she'd look to you. The world can be a confusing and surprising place for your little one, and she uses your reactions to make sense of it. She loves you and trusts your opinion.
He copies your behavior: Does your little guy try to open the door with your keys? Does he "fix" his hair in the mirror, just like you? "They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – but for toddlers, it's also a sincere form of respect and love," says Karp.
She engages with you: The back-and-forth that started during babyhood is much more sophisticated now. Your toddler wants to answer your questions, witness your reaction to what she's doing, and tell you (in her own way) about her ideas. Known as reciprocal social attention, this is a sign of your toddler's attachment and confidence in you.
He uses you as home base: In a new environment, your toddler may alternate between exploring and running back to snuggle in your lap. It's a sure sign of trust and attachment, says psychologist Linda Acredolo. You're a safe, reassuring place for him to return to.
She turns to you for rescue: You're walking through the park when a big dog runs up to your toddler. She raises her arms for you to pick her up and hold her close. She trusts you to help her, and that's a way of showing love, says parent educator Mary Sheedy Kurcinka.
He seeks comfort from you: Your toddler may hold out his hand so that you can kiss his boo-boo, or he may cry for you to cuddle him after he trips on the front steps. He knows he can count on you for comfort, says Acredolo – and he trusts you enough to let you know when he needs it.
7 signs that your preschooler loves you
She acts up: You turn away to chat with a friend on the playground and your preschooler starts grabbing toys and throwing sand. If she doesn't have your positive attention, she'll take negative attention over nothing at all. "I call this the law of the soggy potato chip," says Karp. "In your child's eyes, a soggy potato chip is better than no potato chip." Frustrating as it can be, this behavior is another sign of how important you are to your child.
You're his role model: As in toddlerhood, your child likes to copy exactly what you do – but this modeling has become more advanced. You'll see him "making an important call" while hammering away at his "computer" or even cursing while driving his ride-on car (oops). "To your child, you are a rock star," says Karp.
She makes verbal declarations of love: Finally! At 3 or 4, many children begin to express their love with actual words. You may hear "I love you, Mommy" or "Your skin is so soft" or even "I want to marry you and be together forever." They all mean the same thing.
He comforts you: Your preschooler may surprise you with his empathy. Perhaps he offers you his special blanket when he sees you in tears or gives you a kiss when you hurt yourself. He's aping how you treat him when he gets hurt or upset. This is partly a survival technique, says Acredolo. You are your child's world, and he doesn't like that world disrupted, so he's trying to set things right. But it's also pretty darn loving.
She tries to hurt you with words: Love shouldn't hurt, but when it comes to our kids, sometimes it does. If you disappoint your preschooler or hurt her feelings, she may lash out with an insult like "Mommy's a poophead" or even the dreaded "I hate you!" It's not fun to hear, but – yes, really – it's more evidence of how much your child cares for you. Karp explains: "An insult is a more concise way of saying, 'You matter so much to me that you can make me more upset than anyone else, so I want to hurt you back.'"
He gives you gifts: You may receive a flower plucked from the front yard, a sparkly rock, a crayoned self-portrait, or a "chocolate marshmallow sundae" created out of bathwater and bubbles. Your preschooler's funny and touching gifts are a way for him to show you that you're special.
She celebrates your return: After time apart, your preschooler is likely to give you the VIP treatment, hugging you and showing off her accomplishments. Bonus: This will happen even if she was screaming when you left!
7 signs that your big kid loves you
You're his confidante: When your child comes to you with a problem, it shows that he trusts you, says Sheedy Kurcinka. He knows that you can help him manage his feelings, and he's open to your guidance about how to make the situation better.
She wants to do things for you: Your child may want to bring you tea or even make your breakfast. This is a particularly rewarding sign of love, especially after the toddler and preschool years when you may have felt like a 24-hour waitress. As Kurcinka puts it, "It's not just about you giving and giving anymore. Now your child wants to give, too."
He's more flexible: As much as we hate to admit it, there are times when we let our children down. The good news is that big kids are more likely to take this in stride, thanks to the reciprocal, loving relationship that you've built over the years. So if you have to put off playing a game until morning because you're tired, for example, he's more likely to accept this calmly. He trusts that you'll follow through, and he has the maturity to respect your needs in addition to his own.
She brags about you: As parents we brag about our kids all the time (at least to sympathetic grandparents and our spouses). Our kids brag about us too. So if you overhear your big kid saying, "My mommy can run faster than anyone," take it for what it is – a sign of love and admiration.
He shows gratitude: "When children say thank you to us, they're really expressing respect and love," says Kurcinka. So the next time you give your child a snack and he exclaims, "These are my favorite pickles! Thanks!" feel free to say, "I love you too, honey." Or just take a moment to bask in the glow.
She tells you when you embarrass her: If your child institutes a new "no hugging or kissing" rule at morning drop-off, it doesn't mean she doesn't love you. In fact, it's just the opposite – by expressing her limits, she's demonstrating the trust she has in you. She knows that even if she puts the brakes on the juicy goodbye, she still has the security of your enduring love.
He's a diplomat: Your school-age child is able – and quite willing – to negotiate with you. So if he wants some screen time but you want him to do his homework, he's able to work together to find a solution. He trusts that you'll listen to him, which makes him more willing to listen to you.
- See our complete article on how love blossoms between you and your child
- Read about bonding with your baby
- Share heartwarming "I love you" photos