Everything You Need To Know About Love Bombing In Parenting

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Picture it: Your preschooler is throwing a huge temper tantrum because it’s time for bed. Or maybe your tween is lashing out because you’ve just reminded them to do their homework. While you may be tempted to discipline them, what if you decided to give your angry child your undivided attention and shower them with affection? That's love bombing.

In dating, the term love bombing has negative associations (think manipulation via grand romantic gestures and gratuitous attention). However, love bombing is also a positive parenting technique that some child psychologists and parents swear by to improve behavior in children from around age 3 to the early teen years. Here, we explore what a love bomb is, when a child might need one, and how to get the best results.

What Is Love Bombing?

In his book "Love Bombing: Reset Your Child’s Emotional Thermostat," London-based child psychologist Oliver James, PhD, describes the technique as giving your child a very intense, condensed experience of feeling completely loved and completely in control.

That experience could span a few hours, a day, or a weekend away. The important things are that your love-bomb time is spent one-on-one with your child; that your child determines the agenda; and that you offer expressions of love throughout. 

“You’re allowing your child to be in control,” explains Reena Patel, LEP, BCBA, an educational psychologist and board-certified child behavior analyst in San Diego, CA. “Is it just reading a book or playing a game or going to the movies? Is it just having your undivided attention? Because oftentimes that’s all it is.” 

In his book, Dr. James acknowledges that a love bomb might feel like rewarding your child for bad behavior. However, his work with children shows that a love bomb will help lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in your child. His theory that high levels of cortisol may be associated with hyperactivity, anxiety, or aggression is supported by research.

The idea is that love bombing resets out-of-control cortisol levels, allowing children to better self-regulate. “Feeling loved and in control is far more important for childhood discipline than rule-making and punishment,” writes Dr. James.

How Love Bombing Works

A love bomb shouldn’t be confused with regular quality time spent together. To execute a successful love bomb, it needs to follow a particular sequence of events and it should result in both parties coming away feeling positive. “The outcome will only be positive if done correctly,” stresses Patel. 

Before attempting a love bomb, Patel urges parents to reflect on what they're hoping to achieve. “Think, 'What is my purpose, what is my intention, and what is my goal?'” she says. Following these steps will give you a better chance of relaxing your child and strengthening your bond.

Build Up To The Event

Explain to your child that you will be spending time together, even if you decide it's important to do a love bomb that same day. Ask them to come up with a name for the time. It could be something like, "Special Time" or "Daddy Day." A label that they have chosen will help your child recall the memory of the time spent together.

Hand Over Control

Crucially, ask your child what they want to do. If they have trouble coming up with ideas, you could come up with a list together. It could be playing their favorite game together, going for a picnic, or driving to the beach. A love-bomb session doesn’t have to cost money in order to be successful. The key thing is that you allow your child to choose how you spend your time together—within the bounds of safety and reason, of course.

Offer Your Love

Tell your child you love them often throughout the time you spend together. If you can, make eye contact as you say it. “Alongside this, you will hug him a great deal and tell [them] reassuring things like everything is alright, there is nothing to worry about today or at home, [they] are completely safe with you,” writes Dr. James. You want your child to feel secure, loved, and in control. 

Give Them A Memento

Offering a memento from the time you spend with your child will help them recall feelings of safety and love later. It could be a photo, a cuddly toy, or a pressed leaf from a walk. The memento acts as a prompt, reminding your child of calmer, happier times if and when they become stressed or anxious in the future.

Top Up The Love

In order to prolong the positive effects of a love bomb, Dr. James recommends setting aside a half-hour per day to revisit those feelings of love and safety. This might mean letting your child stay up a bit later than younger siblings to read a book with you, play, or just chitchat.

Who Benefits From a Love Bomb

While almost all children would enjoy and benefit from a love bomb, those who have endured a recent life upheaval stand to gain the most from the experience. A child in need of help might be angry, withdrawn, or anxious.

“Let’s say your child has been through a big transition, whether it’s a divorce or you’ve moved to a new house or a new school,” says Patel. “These are instances where you would want to implement this love-bombing technique.” Kids dealing with social drama or a personal setback may also benefit.

While Dr. James recommends the technique for those aged between 3 and early teens, he believes that children aged between 3 and 6 are most receptive to the technique. However, Patel doesn't think we should discount using a love bomb to help reconnect with big kids. "When we think about our children, it’s not just the little ones who occasionally need this attention, it’s our teens too," she says.

What Results Can Parents Expect?

A love bomb can help tackle emotionally challenging behavior in children by helping them feel loved, safe and secure. “If you front-load your child with positive social attention and quality time, you’re going to see a change in behaviors,” says Patel. 

In young children, positive outcomes of love bombing may include an improvement in their ability to self-regulate emotions. You may notice fewer tantrums and angry outbursts. For older children, undivided attention can make them feel more motivated, positive, and secure. "You’re going to shape their behavior in a way that works," says Patel. "It provides a healthy family dynamic if done appropriately."

A Word From Verywell

When planned with care, a love bomb can help improve your child's behavior or just strengthen your bond. Giving kids advance notice, control over the schedule, and plenty of affection can produce positive results and memories that your children may be able to draw upon when life inevitably gets challenging again.

Though it can enhance parent-child relationships, the love-bombing method is not a panacea for serious mental health issues. If you find that your child's behavior is not receptive to extra positive attention or you worry they may be chronically depressed or anxious, be sure to reach out to your pediatrician or a child psychologist for extra support.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. James O. Love Bombing: Reset Your Child’s Emotional Thermostat. 1st ed. Routledge; 2018. Doi: 10.4324/9780429476914

  2. James O. Love Bombing: Reset Your Child’s Emotional Thermostat. 1st ed. Routledge; 2018. Doi: 10.4324/9780429476914

  3. Paula L. Ruttle, Elizabeth A. Shirtcliff, Lisa A. Serbin, Dahlia Ben-Dat Fisher, Dale M. Stack, Alex E. Schwartzman. Disentangling psychobiological mechanisms underlying internalizing and externalizing behaviors in youth: Longitudinal and concurrent associations with cortisol. Hormones and Behavior, 2011; 59 (1): 123 DOI: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2010.10.015

By Nicola Appleton
Nicola Appleton is a UK-based freelance journalist with a special interest in parenting, pregnancy, and women's lifestyle. She has extensive experience creating editorial and commercial content for print, digital, and social platforms across a number of prominent British and international brands including The Independent, Refinery29, The Sydney Morning Herald, HuffPost, Stylist, Canva, and more