Humans are very social creatures. We need interaction with others to be happy and thrive. Our largest organ, the skin, is also involved in that interaction in a big way. Aside from being a feature that makes us different from other animals visually, it assumes the role of receiving an affectionate and loving touch from people in our family and ‘tribe’. For babies, the role of that touch is extremely important, since it has a clear and measurable impact on their psychological as well as physical development. However, the benefits of hugs hardly stop when you’re no longer a baby. Actually, they extend to your whole life, and we all know how a hug can affect our emotional and cognitive state.
Our kids need our love, and it needs to be shown not only with words, gifts or candy, but also with hair-ruffles, tickling, and of course hugs. In today’s society, we sometimes feel apprehensive about publicly showing affection to our loved ones. Even in Western culture, which is usually considered more open and outgoing, we are usually not particularly expressive of our love, even with family. A lot of times, unlike in the movies, parents do not show physical affection or say “I love you” to their kids. However, according to research, kids that know they are loved and can feel it every day, show more success in cognitive development.
Hugging also provides other benefits, such as a more regulated heart-rate and breathing, blood sugar levels, body temperature, and it even helps initiate breastfeeding earlier and sustain it for longer. With premature babies, studies have shown that holding the baby constantly in what is called ‘kangaroo care’ helps reduce complications with breathing, improves weight gain, and helps babies leave the hospital earlier.
Your child needs your affection to feel secure both emotionally and physically, and they need to know that you love and accept them unconditionally. Hugs build trust and the sense of safety in your child, which lets them relax and feel free to enjoy and explore the world without fear. The security that hugs bring also makes them more connected with other people, more open to learning new things and more ready to communicate honestly and sincerely.
Children, no matter how old, find it difficult to express their feelings sometimes. Small children are often scared by anything different or new, even if no real danger exists. Instead of telling them to ‘suck it up’ or laughing it off, you should offer them a hug. That way you can show them that you understand how they feel and that their feelings are important to you. It also ensures that they know they can trust you with any problems later in life.
The care and love we give to our kids serve as a strong foundation helping them build self-confidence and giving them the opportunity to view themselves in a positive light. It shows them that our love for them is a stable and unchanging thing, around which they can shape their life and their future. A simple hug can boost your kid’s self-confidence immensely, encouraging them to engage with the world with no hesitations or inhibitions.
Think of yourself as your child’s ‘home-base’ where they can always return when they need consolation, encouragement or help. If you do this, your child will grow up to be a healthy, independent person who knows that you always have their back.
When our kids are problematic and when they misbehave, what we often want to do is anything but give them a hug. However, sometimes hugs can be a great solution even in these situations. They create an atmosphere of safety which opens your child up for constructive criticism.
We’re not saying you shouldn’t give your child a firm talking-to, you definitely should if they are behaving badly. What we are saying, though, is that you should always mix it with some sugar to help it go down more easily, and hugs work amazingly well in that scenario. A hug tells your child that you love them no matter what, even while you’re giving them a lecture. They will be more receptive to what you have to say and will be more likely to change their behavior.
Hugging does wonders for boosting our immunity too, as some scientific research has proven. The emotional aspect that a hug brings, coupled with the gentle pressure on the chest is thought to stimulate the thymus gland, regulating and balancing the production of leukocytes, also known as white blood cells, in our body, which helps us stay healthy and free of disease.
Lowered cortisol levels are another proven benefit of hugging often. Cortisol is our body’s stress hormone, so lowering it naturally leads to reduced stress. Parents of infants who were born prematurely are often asked by their doctors to spend more time holding their children in their arms while still at the hospital since it has been shown to increase the babies’ strength and vitality.
We can all attest to the fact that hugging is very relaxing too. The tension that we felt just seems to melt away when we hug someone. This is not only true for emotional tension and stress that we’ve described above, but also for physical tension. Hugging literally relaxes your muscles and helps alleviate physical stress and even pain by boosting blood circulation in your soft tissues. We all want our kids to be relaxed and pain-free, and hugging is a great way to achieve that.
In the end, hugging will just make you and your child a lot happier. We’ve already described how hugging relieves stress by lowering your cortisol levels, but that’s not all. It actually raises the levels of another very important hormone –serotonin. This hormone is in charge of elevating our mood and making us outright happy. So if you’re looking for a quick and simple antidote for stress, anger, isolation, and loneliness, which makes you happy and relaxed at the same time – hugging is the way to go. In fact, what are you still doing here? Go hug your kid right now!