Helping Kids Heal- Hugs
If your children struggle with anxiety and worry it can truly be tough to manage. Especially in this day and age with so much going on in and around our homes. They are being bombarded with scary things every day ranging from tiny to ginormous. I recently shared a technique that empowers your child to take control of their memories and emotions and change the story, which you can read here. I also shared a technique that helps children and families let go of their anger, fears and worry which you can read here.
There is no doubt that hugs make us feel good, they help alleviate some of the pain we feel when we are sad or disappointed. They also are a great part of celebration especially during times of joy and happiness. Intuitively we know that hugs are amazing. But did you know that there are other benefits from hugs besides that warm and fuzzy feeling it provides? It turns out that there are important scientific reasons why hugs are good for you and your child.
When Should you hug your child?
It is never to early to give your child a hug. As we are realizing hugs are more and more important to us and our children. Hug your child when they are hurting, when it is too soon to use words, that is the perfect time for a hug.
How to Hug
I know for many of us, this heading seems ridiculous! We know how to hug. But as we get older and throughout our lives and different experiences hugs can become more awkward and uncomfortable. Even if it is uncomfortable it is important to hug your child.
What to do:
- Open your arms.
- If the child comes to you, then hug for not one second, not two seconds, but for five whole seconds.
- End with caring eye contact and a smile.
What are the other benefits from hugs?
I touched on the fact that hugs are even more important than we ever thought. It is more than just comforting, so lets delve in deeper and examine more benefits from hugs.
Young children’s growth needs a lot of variety in sensory stimulation for normal development. When you were preparing for pregnancy or the first years of parenthood, you may have read about how important skin to skin contact is for bonding and possibly milk production. Physical touch and skin to skin contact such as hugging is one of the most important stimulation required to grow a healthy brain and a strong body.
I remember reading a study when I was in school about an Easter European orphanage, where infants were rarely handled or touched except for diaper changes. The often spend 22 to 23 hours of the day in their cribs. Propped up bottles are used to feed them and care is routinized with minimal human interaction. (Now if you are like me, you are in almost in tears and mentally planning your trip to the orphanage in order to hug and take home all those babies.) These children often face many issues including impaired cognitive development.
Researchers found that when institutionalized infants received an additional 20 minutes of tactile stimulation aka touch per day for 10 weeks, they subsequently scored higher on developmental assessments. Furthermore, not all types of touch are beneficial. We are talking about nurturing touch only, nurturing touch like hugging, can provide the positive stimulation young brains need to grow healthily.
We have seen how touch, or physical contact help children’s brains but it doesn’t stop there! Deprivation of physical contact, can actually stop growth in children’s bodies despite acquit nutrients. These children suffer from “failure to thrive“. This growth deficiency can be improved when nurturing touches such as hugs are provided.
But how? Hugging triggers a release of oxytocin, you know that love hormone. This feel-good hormone has many important effect on our bodies and health, one of which is growth stimulation.
Studies have shown that hugging can instantly boost the level of oxytocin. “When oxytocin is increased, several growth hormones, such as insulin- like growth factor- 1 (IGF-1) and nerve growth factor (NGF), are increased as well.”
With nurturing physical touch’s ability to benefit the brain and body of course it has it’s benefits on your physical health. The increase of the level of oxytocin can strengthen immune systems. It also has the ability to lower plasma leves of thyroid hormones causing wounds to heal faster. Isn’t that amazing?
Hugging is instrumental when dealing with anxiety and emotional stress. When you are at a loss of what to do, a hug is sure to be your very best bet. As we have talked about previously, hugging triggers the release of the feel-good hormone, oxytocin, this hormone can lower the level of stress hormones and reduce anxiety.
Emotion Regulation and Resilience
When a child is brought into this world, their nervous systems are not mature enough to regulate big emotions all by themselves. This is why we have the terrible twos an sometimes equally terrible three’s and ferocious fours.
As you may know, during distress, high levels of cortisol also known as the stress hormone is released circulating through the body and the brain. When it is left for a prolonged period of time due to a young child’s inability to regulate their emotions, this toxic level of cortisol will impact the child physical health as well as their mental health.
Studies have shown that excessive exposure to stress hormones can compromise the child’s immune system and affect memory and verbal reasoning and even depression later in life.
Since hugs trigger the release of oxytocin, this lowers the levels of stress hormones and prevents harmful effects.
Last but not least, hugs helps create a secure bond or attachment between parent and child. Hugs increase trust and reduces fear and improves the relationship overall.
Is it just me or are you really craving a hug, especially from your child right now?
For some references I used for this post, you can check them out here.
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