The power of love bombing: reboot your child’s emotional well-being

A little while ago a colleague and close friend of mine told me that she’d just completed a ‘love bombing’ weekend with her 10 year old daughter. “A what?” I replied, wondering whether she’d been on some kind of new age camping trip. Of course it was nothing of the sort, and my bemusement soon morphed into curiosity as she explained that the idea had come from a book by the Psychologist Oliver James. Knowing that my friend would never recommend a duff book, and given that she has read almost every psychology book going, I took the liberty of ordering myself a copy online. I was immediately hooked, and now I’m seeing the fruits of ‘love bombing’ both in my work as a psychologist, and as a parent.

So what is it? Simply put, ‘Love bombing’ means giving your child an intensive experience of being loved and in control (an idea developed by Oliver James). This can be for a few hours, a day, or a whole weekend. During this time the child, rather than the adult, is responsible for setting the activities/agenda. Consequently they have the novel and empowering experience of being completely in control and being gratified (within reasonable practical and financial limits of course!). Ideally, love bombing sessions should be between one parent and one child. During the activities the parent, through words and behaviour, constantly illustrates how much they unconditionally love their child. This demonstrates to the child that their own behaviour (past, present and future) has no bearing on the parent’s love or commitment to them.

Love Bombing is recommended for children who have been experiencing emotional/ behavioural difficulties, but it can also be used to positive effect with most children – irrespective of any difficulties. Love bombing gives children an intensely positive experience - reconnecting them with their parents, and ‘resetting’ their emotions. This stems from the children experiencing a strong sense of their needs being met - of feeling important, loved and valued. In this way, love bombing can be used to great effect at times where children have been experiencing negative emotions such as worry, sadness or fear - or where they have been engaged in negative self-evaluation.

Impressed? Or are you a still a little sceptical? One common worry in relation to the empowerment of a child is that he/she might suggest impractical or unaffordable activities e.g. Disneyland. Fear not - what children really want is to spend magical time with their parents, so expensive adventures are not at all necessary. Parents can get creative – perhaps by fashioning a budget Disneyland at home! What’s more, your child will appreciate your dedicated efforts to their cause.

Another common concern is the potential consequences of giving your child total control. Understandably, parents may envisage their misbehaving child’s behaviour worsening during the love bombing. Furthermore, a well behaved child might conceivably start to push boundaries following the love bombing. However, if love bombing is framed and presented as a special ‘emotional zone’ - separate from normal life, then these fears should prove unwarranted. Children understand that love bombing represents a special time that necessitates the relaxation of everyday rules (of course, some boundaries must remain e.g. those regarding antisocial or unsafe behaviour).

It is also important to recognise that ‘bad’ behaviour may be a consequence of children’s needs and feelings remaining ungratified. Thus, it may at first seem counter-intuitive to relax, rather than tighten, the rules. But by allowing your child a healthy dose of control, within a context that purposefully maximises emotional security and unconditional love, observed behaviour can markedly improve. This is not to advocate the everyday abandonment of rules and boundaries - they are essential for healthy child development - but rather a temporary break from the norm.

In his book, Oliver James, describes a number of different problems for which love bombing can be used to help e.g. temper tantrums, defiance, anxiety, self-loathing, sleep problems, hyperactivity, and perfectionism. He also recommends the technique for physical health conditions and learning difficulties where secondary emotional/relationship problems arise.

As a psychologist, the rationale of love bombing fits perfectly with my theoretical orientation and therapeutic approaches (which are mainly grounded in attachment theory). Indeed, I can envisage the benefits that love bombing might offer for many of my clients (from young children to teenagers). It may be used as an adjunct to other therapies, or as a focus of the work. As a parent myself, I regularly engage in love bombing with my child. Oliver James recommends love bombing for ages 3+, but I have also seen the benefits of micro love bombing with my 1 year old son.

I typically do this when I’ve been away from my son for a few hours. He usually wants to stay close to me for a while after we’ve been apart. As a Psychologist, I know this is completely natural and that he needs time to reconnect with me to feel reassured that I love him, and that I’m there for him. In other words, he needs a mini adjustment of his emotional thermostat. So when I first come home, I often use the principles of love bombing. Firstly, I shower him with love - plenty of cuddles and kisses, and I let him cling to me as much as he wants. I show him how excited I am to see him, tell him how much I missed him, and tell him about how I was thinking about him all day - wondering what he was up to. Secondly, I try to give him an intense period of control. So, even though I’m usually faced with a million chores to do and starving hungry, I let my son have the reigns for at least 20 minutes or so. I let him lead me to wherever he wants to go, or play with whatever he wants to play with. This works really well for my son (and is a really special period of time for me too). After 20 minutes or so he tends to naturally become more independent in his play again – at which time I can start to tackle those chores!

Without this ‘love bombing’, I believe my son would almost certainly become anxious and upset as I tackled the chores (behaviour often termed ‘clingy’). Instead, we have an intense 20 minutes or so of love, happiness and fun 🙂

If you are interested in love bombing with your child, I would certainly recommend Oliver James’ book, Love Bombing: Reset You Child’s Emotional Thermostat. As well as detailing information on how to plan your love bombing, the book gives advice for individual circumstances e.g. love bombing as a single parent, or for twins - and for particular types of problems such as temper tantrums. The book is available on Amazon (and elsewhere), or you can find out more information on the Love Bombing website: http://www.lovebombing.info/

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