How Hugs and Kisses Help Your Babies and Kiddos
How many hugs do we need a day? Family therapist Virginia Satir once famously 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.” Why is this true? What are the benefits of hugging? And how can hugging your littles frequently help them?
Physical Health Benefits of Hugging
It turns out there are a lot of reasons to make sure your kids get lots of hugs and healthy physical touch every day. Hugging your kids frequently can help them develop properly, can reduce stress and improve heart health, and can even improve their immune systems.
Hugs for Better Development
When it comes to physical affection, you can’t start too early. Infants can benefit greatly from lots of hugs and kisses. One study looked at babies in Eastern European orphanages who are rarely touched or held and concluded that, because of the lack of touch during a crucial time in their development, these babies had “impaired growth and cognitive development.” The same study found that infants in the NICU who were given an extra 15 minutes of stimulus three times a day for 10 days gained more weight and did better on both motor and mental assessments than babies who weren’t given extra stimulation. Such benefits are why many hospitals practice Kangaroo Care, giving infants skin-to-skin time with their mothers and fathers, which is particularly helpful to premature babies. Some hospitals also engage “baby cuddlers” to hold newborn and premature babies in the NICU. Those cuddled improve dramatically, with improved eye contact and reduced fussiness. What are you waiting for? Hug a baby today!
Heart Healthy Hugs
Hugging can lower heart rate, blood pressure and stress! Holding hands and hugging have been found to lower blood pressure and heart rate in stressful situations. Researchers concluded that having someone supportive reassure us with physical touch helps us to be less reactive in stressful situations. I think we can all agree we’d love to see our kids learn to react better to stress. Hugging them regularly seems like an easy and effective way to do this. Another study found that participants given physical contact with a loved one before a stress test produced less cortisol, the hormone that makes us feel stress. This means that frequent hugs can help us feel more calm and less stressed! Who could say no to that?
Healing Hugs for Better Health
Did you know an embrace can defend against sickness and improve healing time? One study found a link between oxytocin, a hormone released during a good long hug, and improved wound healing. Another study looked at hugs and the immune system, and found that participants who received more hugs were less likely to become sick when purposefully exposed to a common cold virus. Of those that did get sick, the ones that received more hugs became less sick and got better faster. Essentially, if you hug your kids often, you’ll give them super powers! (Ok, not really. But it will give their immune system a boost!)
Mental and Emotional Health Benefits of Hugging
It’s not only the physical body that benefits from hugs and love. Mental and emotional health can also improve with more cuddle time. According to researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine, children whose mothers nurture them in early childhood develop a larger hippocampus, up to ten percent larger than peers with less nurturing mothers. The hippocampus “regulates motivation, emotion, learning, and memory.” So showering your child with love, including lots of hugs everyday, can help him learn to regulate his emotions and lead to easier learning and recall. Because emotions can be communicated through touch, hugging your children helps them feel your love, and shows them a healthy and age-appropriate way to express love to others. The reasons to hug your kids regularly just keep stacking up!
Behavioral Benefits of Hugging
The soothing touch of a calm parent can also help defuse the situation when children are upset. Think of human emotions as a car with two pedals: an arousal pedal and a calming pedal. The arousal pedal is like the gas of the car. It is responsible for increasing emotion, for amping things up. The calming pedal does just the opposite; it acts as the brakes and calms and soothes our emotions. Children crying or throwing tantrums are experiencing emotional dysregulation. Their arousal pedal is pressed to the floor but their calming pedal is stuck and can’t help soothe the child. A hug from you will go further toward calming the situation than a time out will. Kids in that state need love, not isolation, to get calm. Skeptical? Try it and see if it helps. Meeting emotional upset with calm instead of anger and with love instead of punishment will teach your little one what she should do when she’s upset, and she’ll be well on her way to learning to regulate her emotions on her own, which, of course, is the goal.
Relationship Benefits of Hugging
It would be hard to overstate the importance of hugging in developing a loving relationship with someone. A 20-second hug produces oxytocin, which is known as the “love hormone,” the “cuddle hormone,” and the “bonding hormone.” Simply put, long hugs help us feel connected to each other. Countless studies have proven this to be true. One found that hugs and other gentle touches promote security in relationships. Another concluded that physical affection improves relationship satisfaction. A third found that touch can help people feel more supported. So if we want our kids to feel connected, secure, satisfied and supported, we need to open wide and pull them close, and do so often.
Lifelong Benefits of Hugging
Hugging our kids will improve their heart health, lower their stress and help them control their emotions. Hugs can help our children feel more secure and connected to us. Too bad all that love and goodness can’t stay with them when they grow up and leave home, right? Wrong! Researchers have found that children with affectionate mothers grow into secure adults who experience less distress in their lives. The study was unique in that it followed the children into adulthood, and concluded that “even very early life experiences can influence adult health.” The study further suggested that “a strong nurturing relationship” in childhood played a key role in the reduction of anxiety in adulthood. Another study suggests that more loving touches can improve well-being long term. The good feelings that come with hugs and kisses from someone who loves us stay with us long after the embrace ends.
So, how many hugs do you need a day? Eight sounds great! But what if you have multiple children? How will you and your partner make sure they get all the physical affection they need? It might be tough, but it is worth the effort. There are many types of hugs. There are good morning hugs and goodbye hugs. Warm hugs and quick hugs. Long, delightful hugs and squirmy, silly hugs. Little hugs when you’re in a hurry, and healing hugs when someone’s had a rough day. Give babies hugs, give kids hugs, give your parents hugs, give your partner a hug. The best part is, you get all the same benefits as the ones you’re hugging. So don’t delay, give a hug today!