Delight: What it is and why it matters

Published on October 13, 2020

Expressions of delight pop up in all kinds of moments with our kids, and not just in the obvious places. A baby’s belly laugh is sure to elicit delight in us. But so can a toddler who has covered herself and the kitchen in a cloud of flour or the teen who has harmlessly fallen backward trying to do a wheelie in the driveway. A parent expressing delight in these moments is experiencing much more than a good laugh at a humorous scene. In times of delight, a deep sense of joy and connection breaks through and spills out— a feeling of That’s my kid! And there is no one else like her! 

Delight lights a person up with wonder and discovery. It communicates in subtle, crucial ways— I see you. And having seen you, I enjoy you. It is in this seeing and enjoying with unconditional love and acceptance that delight holds its unique power.

Delight is most often communicated in quiet, small ways. A researcher watching for signs of delight pays close attention to the look of the eyes, the curve of a smile, and the inflection of a parent’s voice. An expression so subtle and often so fleeting might seem like it wouldn’t matter much. But of all the core needs we talk about in our book, delight is perhaps the most important.

Researchers have found delight and acceptance to be uniquely correlated to a child’s security and well-being. Why would that be? Think back to your own interactions with your parents. Can you remember a certain look that your mother or father gave you, the sound of your dad’s voice or the touch of your mother’s hand, and how those things made you feel? From infancy, we humans are designed to study the people around us with a precision and accuracy that no researcher could ever match. Our children are their own scientists, and the people they study most closely are us, their parents. 

You and your child both are exquisitely designed to read faces and interpret what they mean. In fact, our brains have a region called the fusiform gyrus that is dedicated solely to the task of recognizing faces, plus a broad network of regions dedicated to interpreting the meaning behind facial expressions. And of all the facial expressions, the look of delight is the most rewarding, the most comforting, the most empowering. 

When a child sees a look of delight, they instantly know, You want me here with you. I am indeed valuable to you, even though I am not adding much tangible value to this relationship and may, in fact, be causing a lot of trouble right now.

A child seeing and interpreting a look of delight instantly understands that he is safe. Instead of being concerned or confused about his relationship with his parent, a child feeling a parent’s delight can focus his attention on discovering what he is capable of and developing his gifts and skills without having to waste energy pleasing his parent or worrying if he is going to be rejected.

But it gets even better. Guess what happens in your brain when you experience delight? Your brain gets flooded with oxytocin, the neurochemical in our brains that makes us feel safe and bonded to someone. When you communicate delight to your child, even in small ways, your child feels it. Your delight gives her a sense of security in who she is and her relationship with you and the confidence to keep exploring and learning to master her world.


At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus went to Galilee to be baptized by John the Baptist. As John lifted Jesus out of the water, the gospels tell us that the Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove, and the voice of God declared, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” Various translations include “I take delight in him!” and “He brings me great joy!” 

The timing of this declaration of pleasure is extraordinary. Jesus had not yet begun his ministry. He had not yet done all the things he would go on to do that might “earn” this expression of love and delight. He had not healed a single person, set a single religious person straight, or spoken to the multitudes about the mysteries of God. God’s extravagant proclamation of love came before the temptation, before the miracles, before the teaching, before the cross. The delight preceded the work. Jesus was sent into the world with a clear understanding of God’s delight in him. Delight came first.

Was the baptism of Jesus in fact a baptism into God’s pleasure, God’s delight, God’s joy? And might everything that followed have flowed out of that baptism? And if it did, what might that mean for us? For our children?

Science and faith come together to show us the essential role that delight has in our growing into our full potential. Delight builds a foundation for emotional and relational safety, and from that safety, our kids can explore and grow into their God-given talents and abilities. I tell parents that delight is the wind in their children’s sails. It provides the lift they need to set them off into the world.

Delight doesn’t guarantee any concrete outcomes but is a hedge against the storms. If our kids are set off with sails full of delight, they can run aground. They can fail. Your child’s knowledge of your delight deep in his bones means that when the storm clears and the ship is righted, he can be audacious enough to hoist the sail again. An inheritance of delight is a wind that stays with our kids long after they are grown.


Excerpted from The 6 Needs of Every Child: Empowering Parents and Kids through the Science of Connection

Jeff and Amy are releasing a new podcast in the Christian Parenting Network called Growing Connected, follow along here!

Jeff and Amy will also be speaking at the Perfectly Imperfect Christian Parenting Digital Event, check it out here!

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Dr. Jeffrey Olrick

Husband and wife team Dr. Jeffrey Olrick and Amy Olrick offer faith-affirming, scientifically-grounded resources for parents at The Olricks are speakers at Christian Parenting’s Perfectly Imperfect digital event and also hosts of The Growing Connected podcast with that launches this month.

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