We all love a good snuggle and look for any excuse to give our kiddos some love, but did you know that hugging and affectionate touch can actually benefit your child’s development? In fact, the effects of hugging are strongest and most influential in children. Here are four developmental advantages to hugging your child.
4 Ways Hugging a Child Encourages Emotional Development
1. Hugging Releases Happy Chemicals in the Brain
Several studies have found that oxytocin, a chemical that is associated with wellness and happiness, and dopamine, the body’s natural happiness chemical, are released when we hug or use affectionate touch. Not only does hugging release these happiness chemicals in the brain, but it has also been found that children who hug more often are less affected by conflicts, which results in better relationships.
In addition, due to the release of oxytocin, also known as the ‘love’ hormone, and dopamine, hugging also provides a source of emotional support and can actively reduce stress.
2. Hugging Decreases Blood Pressure and Stress Levels
Research has shown that hugging and other touch reduces cortisol levels as well as lowers blood pressure. Cortisol is the body’s natural stress hormone, which can be counteracted by a release of oxytocin, or in other words a hug. The idea that hugging lowers cortisol levels has bigger implications than you might initially think.
In some studies, hugging has even been shown to stop tantrums; Outburst and temper tantrums are signs that your child is stressed, which means they are experiencing a rise in cortisol levels. Although many parents think hugging during a tantrum might reinforce unwanted behaviors, the oxytocin released during hugging naturally balances out the cortisol chemicals and in turn provides important emotional support and develops trust between you and your child.
3. Hugging Reduces Aggression and Promotes Positive Relationships
There is evidence that hugging and other positive touch reduces aggression in children, as well as promotes positive behaviors and social interactions. Positive touch like hugs are so important in childhood that children will seek out negative touch (pushing, hitting, etc.) because negative touch is better than no touch at all.
Hugs also benefit your child at school - touch has been linked to building strong relationships between teachers and students and also encourages cognitive development. Children learn more efficiently when they are in a relatively stress-free environment, such as an environment with lots of hugs. This is because of the effect of rising oxytocin levels and lowered cortisol levels, resulting in an overall state of relaxation and attentiveness that promotes learning.
4. Hugs Help Develop Secure Attachment and Demonstrates Empathy
A well known practice in infant care is Kangaroo care. This is skin to skin contact, putting your baby’s chest to your own. This is incredibly important during the early life of your child, as it influences their confidence, social interactions, and ability to cope with life stressors in the future. Hugs have also been found to influence children’s expression of empathy.
Children exposed to an environment full of hugs and emotional support have higher self-confidence and more successful social relationships compared to children exposed to environments lacking such warm interactions. Children do as they see, making even simple things like a hug important in developing your child’s ability to empathize and maintain healthy social relationships.
Hugging and Social Distancing
While it’s certainly important for parents to have a physical connection to their children, there’s no denying that social distancing makes it a little harder for friends and family! Hugging a stuffed animal also produces oxytocin and serotonin. If you still want to share a hug with a wee kiddo consider gifting them a personalized stuffed animal with their name on it, so they think of you when they’re cuddling it. Or you could get a matching plush and hug it with them on a video call. These gifts remind kids of how special they are.
All in all, hugging has many positive effects on your child’s physical and emotional development - and a little extra love never hurts anyone!
By Austin DuBois