Love bombing between adults? Not good. Think: an onslaught of romantic gestures that comes off as all lovey-dovey but is really just a tactic to gain power. In other words, it’s a behavior that’s typically considered narcissistic and manipulative.
But when it comes to children, love bombing can actually be a powerful emotional and behavioral reset tool if utilized by thoughtful grownups. So how do parents and caretakers implement love bombing without crossing into the dangerous, toxic territory? Here’s what you need to know.
Wait, how exactly is ‘love bombing’ a positive parenting technique?
Love bombing is a tactic meant to help deeply connect with your child by offering your full attention without distractions. Says clinical psychologist Dr. Bethany Cook: “Essentially, this is quality time stepped up one notch.” More specifically, love bombing is an intervention approach that can be used when your child is stressed, exhibiting tantrum or noncompliance behaviors or having a difficult time, Reena B. Patel (LEP, BCBA), parenting expert and psychologist, explains. The goal, continues Patel, is that through a set amount of loving one-on-one time with your child in control (say, playing his favorite Hot Wheels game, esoteric rules and all), you can reset your child's emotions and behaviors back to neutral territory.
What are signs your kid might need a love bomb?
In general, Patel explains, a love bomb creates a health space for positive attention just for your child. No other distractions. And there are many instances where this type of environment can benefit a child. Here are some examples, provided by Dr. Cook, of when a child might be in need of a love bomb.
1. If your child has been through a big change, or even a lot of small shifts
2. If your child has had difficulty at school/with peers/managing long-distance relationships
3. If your child seems disengaged or you've noticed the “sparkle” leave their eye
4. If your child shares they aren’t feeling well/not themselves/states that no one cares about them
5. If your child has accomplished something they’ve worked really hard toward, it could be a great time to offer a love bomb to not only recognize their sacrifices and efforts but also replenish the depleted mental and emotional resources they used toward their success.
So how do you love bomb effectively?
The ultimate is to make your child feel 100 percent in control, seen, cared for and of course, loved. Dr. Cook breaks down how exactly to accomplish this:
1. Start by telling your child that soon they will be receiving a “love bomb.” This means special one-on-one time with you (or another caretaker in their life).
2. During this time, some of the normal rules are lifted—like, say, allowing bubble-blowing in their chocolate milk or eating in the car. (This helps your kid feel in control, which is important, but of course, as the grownup, you ultimately have to be OK with which rules go out the window.)
3. Ask your child to make a list of all the special things they’d like to do with you—this can be for a couple hours or even an overnight or special weekend away. Make it an occasion, no matter how big or small.
4. Try to offer your child a small memento to remember it by, whether that’s a puzzle from the museum gift shop or a stone you two discovered on your walk.
That’s it! A love bomb is essentially mindful quality time with a child offering them choices with relaxed rules and structure—it’s not about showering them with gifts or spending money. (So yes, you can still say no if your kid asks for a trip to Disney World.)
When is a love bomb not appropriate?
Just as love bombing in romantic relationships can become toxic and manipulative, so can love bombing with children. Says Dr. Cook: “If you’re using love bombing as a way to get your needs met or to ‘make-up’ for inconsistent connection with your child, you are using it for the wrong reasons.” Intentional love bombs are meant to cultivate authentic relationships with your kids. If you’re using them for other reasons, the technique will have less impact. “You’ll probably notice that your behaviors stop working once the child realizes your efforts aren’t genuine. As such, it might be time to rethink your game plan and dig a little deeper into the ‘why’ behind your behavior,” cautions Dr. Cook.