As a species, we require human touch to survive and thrive. Our skin is the largest organ and physical contact distinguishes us from other animals. For young babies, the role of affectionate touch is even more important as it has a direct impact on their physical and psychological development. The benefits of human touch extend through to childhood, and can impact a child’s cognitive and emotional development.
Our children need our affection – in big bear hugs and passing ruffles of the hair, in sought-after treasures wrapped in pretty paper and time spent playing “horsies” around the house. In Gary Chapman’s book “The five love languages of children”, he describes five ways a parent can show a child love – words of affirmation, time, acts of service, gifts and physical touch.
In a predominantly Asian society like ours, we do not readily show affection to the ones we love, especially in public. We are generally a lot less expressive than our Western counterparts, even when it comes to our own family. Very likely, our own parents were not models of physical affection and did not hug us or say “I love you” a whole lot during our growing up years.
Yet research clearly indicates that children thrive in environments where they not only know they are loved – they feel it as well.
The power of hugs cannot be underestimated. Dr Natalie Epton, Specialist Paediatrician and Neonatologist explains, “Hugging your baby has numerous benefits, including better-regulated breathing and heart rate, temperature and blood sugar levels, as well as initiating breastfeeding earlier and sustaining it for longer. Studies on premature babies show that the practice of ‘kangaroo care’ (cuddling the baby skin-on-skin) improves weight gain, reduces breathing complications and is associated with earlier hospital discharge.”
Here are 10 reasons that we hope will compel you to hug your children at least once every single day!
1. Hugging helps our children feel safe & secure
Children need the loving affection of their parents to feel emotionally secure, and to know that they are unconditionally accepted into the family. The physical intimacy of a hug builds trust and a deep sense of safety in our children, which frees them up to enjoy the world around them. This security also increases their openness to learn new things and paves the way for open and honest communication.
2. Hugging helps our children to have a healthy self-esteem
Our love and care give our children a strong foundation of self-confidence that helps them to view themselves positively and to try new things, knowing that our love for them is unchanging. We can boost our child’s confidence tremendously with a simple hug, empowering him to fully engage with the world out there. We can see ourselves as a “home-base” for our child to return to every time he needs a refuge from the “real world” – and recognize that he will need this, need us, less and less as he grows and matures.
3. Hugging lets them know we understand how they feel
Young children, and even older ones, may find it hard to express how they are feeling. Babies can often be frightened by anything that is new or different, even if there is no real danger. Instead of laughing it off, or telling them “Don’t be silly!”, offering them a hug can be the best way to assure them that their feelings matter, and that they can trust you to give them the comfort they need.
4. Hugging helps our children to take discipline better
When our children misbehave, our gut instinct is normally to give them a smack, not a hug. However, hugs can create a reassuring atmosphere that is more conducive for that firm talk with your child. A hug says “I will always love you, but I need to talk to you about your behavior.” Children are more willing to listen to what you have to say or expect when they feel better, so encourage them with a hug, and you just might notice their behavior improving!
5. Hugging makes our children feel happy
Did you know, that a long hug can lift a person’s serotonin levels, elevating his mood and creating happiness? Our hugs are the antidote for feelings of loneliness, isolation and anger, which our children may encounter. Let’s not be so quick to let go!
6. Hugging strengthens the immune system
Yes, it’s medically proven that hugging is great for boosting immunity. The gentle pressure on the sternum and the emotional charge this creates stimulates the thymus gland, which regulates and balances the body’s production of white blood cells, and this, in turn, helps to keep you healthy and disease free
7. Hugging reduces stress
It’s also medically proven that children with more skin-to-skin contact with their parents from birth have lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. This is why parents of premature infants are often encouraged to spend time holding their offspring in the hospital intensive care unit, as it is shown to help boost these babies’ vital signs.
8. Hugging relaxes muscles
When we hug, we can feel the tension in ourselves and in the other person literally melt away. Hugs may not be able to take away our emotional pain, but they can definitely help to alleviate it; hugs tangibly soothe body aches by increasing circulation into the soft tissues.
9. Hugging teaches our children how to give and receive
Sometimes, our children might not want to be hugged. Don’t force them to reciprocate, but don’t give up hugging them either! Our children learn not just the warmth of receiving a hug, they will begin to understand the need to show love to others by giving hugs of their own too. Hugs educate our children on how love is a two-way street.
10. Hugging helps us and our children get connected to how we are feeling on the inside
When we hug our children, time stops for that moment. A hug allows us to let go and be completely present in that moment; it us connect to how we are feeling, emotionally and physiologically. And with that awareness, it helps us to empathize with each other a little better.
Have you hugged your child today? We hope this article will encourage you to make big bear hugs a daily affair for your household!
In fact, why wait? Go give your child a hug right now!
By Dorothea Chow