25 answers

9 Year Old Son Won't Say I Love You

I have a wonderful 9 year old son...smart, athletic, handsome and popular with his friends. None of his teachers have ever had anything but praise re. his schoolwork and social skills and he is just a great kid overall. He's a top performer in school (in the gifted class at our school) as well as in sports. He's a little shy in social situations at first, but nothing extreme. The problem for me is that he will not respond to acts of affection. When someone at schools passes him in the hall and says "hi", he normally just keeps on walking. It is like he's unfortable saying "hi" back. And if I say "I love you" or "have a great day", all I get is a grunt, if I'm lucky... He has NEVER been comfortable saying "I love you" to me or anyone else. In fact, he's only said it to me twice, when I begged/bribed him to say it! I am a very affectionate and expressive person and while I try to understand that this is just his personality, it really hurts not to hear those words from him. I have a healthy marriage and my husband says "I love you" and shows affection, to a very normal degree. Any suggestions? Or do I need to get over it and realize that he does love me but just can't say it?? I worry about how this will affect his future relationships! Any input would be great appreciated!

What can I do next?

Featured Answers

Just because he doesn't verbalize or express his feelings doesn't mean he doesn't feel them. Some people are like that.

1 mom found this helpful

Hi Jane,
I try not to let it bother you. He is of the age when saying I love you and responding to Mom in any way or form is not "COOL" Just know that deep down he does love you..I am going throuogh the same thing.. but my son is 13yrs. old I do not make him say it to me.. I tell him and if he replies it makes my day.. but if he does not I still know that he does love me also.Good luck hun!

Jen

1 mom found this helpful

You know he does. He'e in a phase right now and most likly thinks it's more macho to play the cold bit.

I hardly say I love you to my own parents now. I do, I just don't feel like saying it. I will every once in a while. We're a hugging family as well.

More Answers

You do know that your son loves you. He will say it when he is ready. My daughter is 20 years old and will still not respond I love you. Other than that she is well adjusted. She feels deeply when it comes to emotions. I tell her not to hold things in because of the internal pressrure. She calls me from college sometimes three times a day. When I am not at home and her Dad answers the phone, she talks with him, but she will call back later to talk with me about just chit chat.
I dont think you should worry. Stop the pressure. It will probably come in time. My daughter, even as an infant was not one who seemed to enjoy cuddling or for me to hug her a lot.

1 mom found this helpful

Hi Jane,
I try not to let it bother you. He is of the age when saying I love you and responding to Mom in any way or form is not "COOL" Just know that deep down he does love you..I am going throuogh the same thing.. but my son is 13yrs. old I do not make him say it to me.. I tell him and if he replies it makes my day.. but if he does not I still know that he does love me also.Good luck hun!

Jen

1 mom found this helpful

Hi J.,

Sounds like you're looking for issues here! Your son sounds like a wonderful human being - congratulations to you on a job well done. Just appreciate him as the wonderful person that he his. So yes, "just get over it." Quite frankly, I think it's a good sign that he is sparse with his "I love you"'s...

Best,

M.

1 mom found this helpful

Just because he doesn't verbalize or express his feelings doesn't mean he doesn't feel them. Some people are like that.

1 mom found this helpful

J., I am wondering about the difference between being able to express emotions and common politeness. Perhaps not saying anything is an acceptable response to a greeting in the social circles of your 9-yr-old; but, sometimes children need a little help in practicing polite ways to respond in social situations. I was taught how to politely speak with adults and shake hands when I was a child. When I was an adult, I went through a difficult time emotionally for a short while. During that time, the question of the common greeting 'how are you?' was really difficult for me. I knew that most people didn't really want to know how truly horrible I was feeling inside, and it was not polite or appropriate to tell them, either. So I practiced 'fine, thank you, and you?' in those situations. Learning and practicing to say 'hello, how are you?' (or an alternative slang expression [whasup?] to use with his friends) at this age can be a valuable skill for the rest of his life, especially if he is one of those people who is more comfortable with facts than people. It seems that we often encourage the intellectual development of the 'bright' children at the expense of their social skills. We cannot always expect children will automatically know how to respond politely. It could really be helpful to him if you help him to figure out what he might like to say ahead of time, so it will be easier when the time comes.

Now as for being able to express his emotions with you, this can be learned as well; however it may take a lot more work for both of you. I recommend a book called "Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life" by Marshall Rosenberg. This book will help you with all of your relationships, and getting communications to a more heartfelt level. I am sad to see the current dynamic in your relationship with your son. You beg and bribe him to say something YOU want to hear, and he is not comfortable to say or even explore whatever HE truly feels. Perhaps his need for autonomy is not being met in this dynamic. So I am afraid it might continue to be unfulfilling for both of you in the long run, if he continues to shut you out so that he can have his own thoughts and feelings - or worse, learn to shut off his his feelings all together so that he does not have to express yours. Many times we do not know what our own feelings and needs are. This book can help you to help him express himself in loving and non-manipulative ways. There is hope.

S.

1 mom found this helpful

You said he's never been comfortable saying "I love you." Not only are some people more "touchy-feely" than others but 9-year-old boys are discovering their "cool" which means a manly grunt is more cool than giving your mom that uncool baby reply of "I love you, too!" It's also cool to grunt to your friends and you can't show too much excitement about them either--especially not in front of your mom! Not cool--even though they don't use the word "cool" any more.

They will show affection towards each other by punching and wrestling each other, though.

Bottom-line: Because he doesn't say "I love you" doesn't mean he doesn't. It may not become cool to say those words again until he's 20. That's cool guy law.{:^D}

1 mom found this helpful

While I agree with what most of the others have said here, I do think it is unusual for a child to have NEVER said "I love you" to his/her Mother with out the use of begging or bribery. If this was something new as an elementary aged child, I wouldn't be concerned in the least bit. Boys, especially, tend to "stuff" emotions once they start hanging around the other "big boys", however as a toddler, children usually "repeat" what is being said to them, even if the child doesn't actually "feel" a specific emotion...it is just a typical part of development. Your son seems quite normal, and as you say "gifted", in all other areas. I don't think it would hurt to have him assessed by a child development specialist to rule out or confirm Ausperger's or another form of Autism. Then regardless of the outcome of that assessment, continue what you are doing now: tell him that you love him and continue to accept him just as he is, but I don't think you need to resort to begging or bribery just to hear the words "I love you" from him. He loves you; you are his Mother. :)

1 mom found this helpful

He sounds like a normal kid to me. Pressuring him to say "I love you" might even make him rebel and not want to say it even more. Maybe try giving him space and letting him decide when he's ready to say it. If you don't make a big deal about it, he might not either either. Also, maybe try thinking of it from a different perspective. I came from a family that never said I love you and I never once doubted my parents love for me. They were supportive, loving and caring and showed me in a thousand more ways than using "I love you" all the time. Whenever we say it in our family, it really is something special. Always using that phrase might even make it less meaningful when it's just expected. How often do we say that we love something... "I love those shoes, I love this movie, I love this chocolate cake". Love means so much more than that and maybe to your son, its very sacred. I'm sure that you don't doubt his love for you. Why pressure him? Whenever he does say it, it can mean that much more to you.

1 mom found this helpful

That may just be his personality, a lot of boys are just more uncomfortable demonstrating affection. However, you might consider whether he is patterning himself after his father...if your husband is not outwardly affectionate, or only expresses those feelings when you 2 are alone, your son might be picking up on that from him. If that is the case, you might make more effort to say I love you to your husband in the presence of your son, and after seeing your husband respond to you appropriately, your son might be inclined to do so as well. As to saying hello in the halls, he may just be so wrapped up in his thoughts that he doesn't notice others...I know I have been known to "ignore" folks myself. As he gets older and better at multitasking, I would bet that this will improve, as it will if he's just shy. Just continue to set a good example and try not to force the issue.

Some 'males' just don't say or do acts of affection. Have you asked your husband to assist? Sometimes men can help their sons display affection by displaying affection to them and helping them to understand that it is okay and nothing to be ashamed of.

I would think in this situation, just make sure he knows he is loved and leave it at that. I wouldn't bribe him to say anything he is uncomfortable with because it may make it harder for him to say it later when he actually might want to.

J., my youngest son was/is the same way, he's almost 21 now and will respond to my telling him i love him...now...but growing up i got the grunts as well. but i have never had any doubt that he loves me...the comment from another woman about him seeing the way your husband treats you is so big. this son is very protective (not possessive) of female friends, he treats them with respect and is great with people in general. Just be patient he'll come around. I'm also a very affectionate person but not everyone is when it comes to an outward showing....belived me my son would do anything for the people that he loves....just enjoy him as he is and watch him grow...R.

As hard as it is....You can't MAKE someone say I love you. All you can do is set an example and LET GO! The more you push, the more he will retreat and you don't want him to have big issues about saying I love you.... Be sure you are NOT pushing him. Sometimes we parents PUSH when we don't even realize it. Let it go, Mom. I KNOW it's hard, but for now....You'll have to get that NEED met by your husband. Don't have "strings attached" when YOU express your love for your son.

Please read "5 Languages of Love" by Gary Chapman. Every person expresses love, and feels loved, in different ways. My local library has several of the books but when I was able I purchased my own copy. My daughter feels love by getting things while K feels loved by my doing things for her, acts of service. J is the only one who expresses love the way I do, by verbally expressing it. Here is a link to the web site. http://www.fivelovelanguages.com/. Hope thie helps. G.

I am sure he loves you- just is not vocal about it. You need to read the Five Love Languages...its great for couples and any relationship really. I think he is a normal boy. My 12 yr old is not one to kiss or hug me, but he likes to make me breakfast in bed- and he is the first person to notice if I seem sad and asks me what is wrong...so even tho I can't get the words or the kisses, I know he loves me. KWIM?

i would not worry about it right now he might be going through some kind of change

As a kid I was always uncomfortable saying "I love you", and my mom, sister, and I NEVER said that to each other when I was a kid and we still never do, but they are my favorite people in the world and we are all very close, there was just no need to say those words. It wasn't something we did. Some people are just more reserved when it comes to expressing feelings. It's no big deal. And both my sister and I ended up as very happy, loving adults, happily married, no strange social or relationship issues, etc.!! :) So I wouldn't try to "force" any kid to say that; kids love their parents regardless.

I really don't know what to say about that because has a healthy home enviroment and he has friends, so i don't know why he would be like that. I was kinda like that when i was younger and to this day i could not tell you why. I started to say it a lot more when my mom passed away when i was only 12 years old and i thought to myself that i should have said i love you more often to her than i did. I felt really bad for not saying it. I would respond if she said it to me first, but i would never say it first and i was a very affectionate child. That phrase was just one that i could not bring myself to say. I am now 23 years old and i have 3 children and i taught them at a very young age to say i love you and to respong to your family when they say i love you to them first. I think he will grow out of it as time passes by. I just hope and pray that he doesn't have to go through what i went through before he realizes that he should say i love you to the ones that he cares about.

J.,
I had the same problem with my first born son Tyler. I told him at bedtime one night that I had realized he never said that he loved me and that I knew he did but I needed to hear it. I was concerned that he would be a husband never expressing his love verbally to his wife and that he needed to know how. After that, he tells me all the time! I think, for him, he just needed to learn that it was important, just like speaking to others when they have spoken to you. I try to teach my boys to be "other oriented", always putting others needs before theirs and trying to think what it is like to be in someone else's shoes. I hope a heart to heart talk with you son will help- but do it in a non-confrontational way...like while you are doing something else together. Hope this helps!

J.,
Hello. While I can't speak directly to your issue, here's what I know for sure: Children Listen, Children ALWAYS Listen!! It might not seem like it and kids (even teenagers) may seem to dismiss it, but they're listening and observing.
Words are powerful, so continue to be yourself and express the love you're feeling; it's for the good of you both. He sounds very smart, so he's taking it all in. I'm sure it's hard not hearing those words back, but he could be one of few words and who knows someday you may receive the most beautifully worded letter about how he appreciates your love. Know in your heart that he loves you, even though you don't hear the words (right now). Best of luck to you.
~ J.

Some people are comfortable and some are not comfortable with expressing affection. Don't stop expressing it to him. I can guarentee that he would really miss it if you stopped and wonder if something was wrong. Watch for ways that he expresses his love non-verbally. Maybe he is quick to get something for you when you need it. Maybe it is just a quick smile when you enter the room. Don't give up on him. As he gets older, you can start to talk to him about what girls would like to have in a relationship, but not now. Also, if he sees your husband treating you with love and expressing it verbally, he will understand that this is the way to act towards a wife.
S. R
Mother of 5 great kids, 22, 19, 15, 14, 12

You know he does. He'e in a phase right now and most likly thinks it's more macho to play the cold bit.

I hardly say I love you to my own parents now. I do, I just don't feel like saying it. I will every once in a while. We're a hugging family as well.

Has he ever had any kind of counseling or assessment? I have heard of that in some higher functioning forms of Autism - not trying to freak you out tho. I had that same prob as a kid & I have some of the markers. It could also be just a phase ("love is uncool"). Find him someone to talk to if he's comfortable with it. If he's not, he probly wont open up to them either. Maybe he needs a journal to help him learn to express his emotions. But try not to push, and know that he does love you.

Hi J.,
I don't know what to say about the not responding to the "hi's" in the hallways but can offer some advice on the lack of display of emotion. Everyone has their own was of expressing and accepting love and praise. There is a great book called "Five Love Language(s)", can't remember the author's name. My husband and I read it and heard a lecture about it at a couples retreat. It changed the way we "spoke" to each other. While the book is intended to address couples, the methods can be extended to the rest of your family also. It sure helped us uncover the way to express and hear love from our son and daughter...both in different ways.

W. Q

Your son is behaving perfectly normally from what I can tell from your letter - he just seems to have a more intorverted personality than you do.

I wouldn't worry about him not saying "hi" to kids in the hall at school, as long as he has friends, and it sounds like he has a pretty active social circle. He just may not be much on small talk - I wasn't.

As for saying that he loves you - boys his age aren't generally comfortable with PDA, no matter how much they see/hear their dads demonstrate affection. It sounds like your husband is more verbal about his feelings than most men are. My husband and I were engaged before he actually said the words "I love you" to me, but I knew he did because of the way he acted toward me. The words are nice, but not a deal-breaker, and I think that's even more true for children.

At this point in your son's life, it's more important for him to hear and see you express your love for him than for him to verbalize his love for you.

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