Author and family therapist Virginia Satir once said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth”. Indeed, the benefits of hugging are boundless as it does wonders to a child’s cognitive and emotional development.
Research has shown that children thrive in environments where they are showered with love constantly – and this starts from as early as the day they are born. In the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) of hospitals today, parents are encouraged to practice “kangaroo care” by holding their premature babies as this has been shown to lead to improvement in vital signs (i.e. weight gain and minimal breathing complications) which leads to earlier discharge.
Now that we are aware of the scientific benefits of hugging, here are 10 amazing reasons to gather your child in your arms for a soothing hug, every day:
1. It helps them feel safe
As children begin to learn about how things work, they need the loving gestures of their parents to feel emotionally secure and be assured that they are accepted into the family. The nurturing touch of a hug helps to establish trust and a sense of safety in them, which allows them to take in the sights and sounds of the world around them without worry. With a deep sense of security, hugging also leads to an openness to learn new things and promote open and honest communication between parent and child.
2. It makes them smarter
Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine found that children who were showered with love by their mothers during the early years have a larger hippocampus, the key part of the brain that is vital for learning, memory and response to stress. While this may not imply that hugging leads to higher IQ levels in your children, it is worth noting that providing them with a loving and safe environment to grow up in does wonders for their learning and development. In the long run, they will continue to reap the benefits of your loving affection as they grow up into confident and well-adjusted individuals.
3. It’s a natural stress-buster
Physical contact such as hugging releases a chemical in our brain called oxytocin, which is often called “the love hormone”. Made primarily in the hypothalamus in the brain, oxytocin is known to reduce depression and anxiety, and may have an effect on attentional disorders. Thus, cuddling and hugging your child helps to melt the stress away and put them (and you) in a better mood. So, the next time you find yourself having a rough day or if your children seem to be pushing your buttons, do take a moment to breathe in and reset the atmosphere with a simple cuddle.
4. It promotes a healthy self-esteem
The hugs we give our children from day one helps to reassure them that they are loved and develops a sense of self-confidence and positive mindset in them. These associations of self-worth stay with them from childhood right up to adulthood and we can boost their confidence with a simple hug. As a whole, hugging your children helps to provide a safety net for them whenever they need to take a breather from “the real world” and builds up their ability to love themselves for who they are.
5. It helps in discipline
In our efforts to discipline our children when they misbehave, we often resort to methods such as putting them in the time-out corner. However, giving them a hug could be what we need to start off the discipline process on a positive note, and this can be followed up with a firm explanation of what they did wrong.
While your child might resist the hug initially, he/she will soon give in and allow his/her body to relax, which brings on a feel-good effect. Children are more willing to listen to what we have to say when they feel good, so do encourage them with a hug to reassure them of your love – over time, you just might notice a change in their behaviour.
6. It teaches them to develop empathy
Hugging allows you and your child to be completely present in the moment and connect with how both of you are feeling on an emotional and physiological level. With this exchange of energy, hugging teaches your child the value of empathy as he/she develops an understanding of how you might be feeling. In addition, hugging also teaches your child that love is a two-way street and that he/she can show love to others by giving hugs in return. In short, a hug is a powerful lesson itself to show your children what it means to love, and be loved.
7. It promotes better health
Medical case studies have proven that hugging goes a long way to boost our immunity. The gentle pressure applied to the sternum (or better known as breastbone) and the emotional charge created while hugging stimulates the thymus gland, which regulates the body’s production of white blood cells. The combination of all these processes helps to improve the immune function and keep you healthy.
In addition, a 2015 study conducted by researchers from King’s College, London found that oxytocin (the hormone that is released as a result of hugging) has analgesic effects, which leads to lower pain ratings and intensity. So, do make it a point to hug your child often to keep him/her in the pink of health!
8. It keeps both of you happy
Gathering your child in your arms for a hug helps to uplift both your spirits and keep you both happy. Hugs function in a similar fashion to meditation and laughter. Apart from teaching you to let go of all negative vibes, they also encourage you to “go with the flow” and relish in the feel-good feelings of the moment.
Children benefit greatly from being cuddled, as it provides them with a safe place to which they can turn to when they feel scared or nervous. On top of that, hugging is also a great remedy for us, as parents, to eliminate the frustrations when dealing with our children while letting them know that our love for them remains unchanged.
We hope that you will be inspired to spread the love and fill your child’s day with bear hugs and cuddles after reading this article.
This article was first published on the MindChamps blog.