Ways children find to cope with their need for love and affection missing from their parents by Cathy Pinnock

When a child feels unloved it can manifest itself in destructive ways including overeating, acting out, numbing through video games and excessive social media usage. It can also lead to a child attempting to form emotional attachments to other adults like teachers, coaches, and of course other family members.

As Therapist David Richo outlines in his book The five keys to mindful Loving1  there are 5 A’s that children need in order to feel whole and secure. They are attention, affection, appreciation, acceptance and allowing.

If a child does not get the attention they desire at home, they may seek it from other ways which could lead to acting out and be perceived as bad behavior. They need affection and acceptance to develop normal healthy relationships as adolescents and adults.

If they are in a negative cycle of getting in trouble, they may never hear the appreciation they deserve for the things they are doing right.  Seeking the need to feel acceptance from others, who may be incapable of or inappropriate, they may turn to unhealthy means to achieve this.

Food has been known to help sooth the pain these children have experienced. By feeling unloved and unaccepted by their parents, food works in ways to help them feel comfort and is satisfying to appease their needs. It is a form of coping and unfortunately can lead to an eating disorder or obesity and can lead to destructive behaviors.

A way for a child to feel more accepted may be through sports. Being a member of a team can help build their self-esteem as a contributing person and help them feel accepted and positive about themselves. It has proven to help children feel a sense of purpose and help avoid the pitfalls of feeling sad and lonely about their lack of support at home. It has also helped change the direction of their life by being involved in a positive activity rather than following a direction leading to negative consequences.

Ultimately, an adult acting as an advocate for the child is a good form of support. Whether at school, home or in other social setting, a child will feel more secure if they know someone is looking out for their wellbeing and they can talk to when they are feeling upset or sad.

Grandparents have filled this role for many years. In many cases, they are the de facto for children whose parents are unwilling or incapable of raising them. They become parent, grandparent, and caregiver to the child and try their best to fulfill the role of all to help the child grow in healthy ways.


1Richo, D. (2002) How to be an adult in relationships. The five keys to mindful loving. Boulder, CO: Shambhala Publications, Inc.


Cathy is a Registered Marriage and Family Therapist at Simply Brave. She is motivated to help people find the answers they are looking for to enjoy happiness, find hope and regain personal strength. ⁠