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The Importance Of Hugging Your Child & 7 Amazing Benefits

Hugging benefits children’s emotional, cognitive, and physical development. Human touch, especially in nurturing hugs, promotes brain growth and healthy body development. Studies have shown that infants in environments with minimal physical interaction, such as orphanages, suffer from delayed cognitive and motor skills development. Physical contact not only supports mental development but is also vital for physical growth. Conditions like failure-to-thrive, characterized by a halt in growth despite adequate nutrition, can be mitigated through nurturing touches.

Hugs enhance health by boosting the immune system, accelerating healing, and decreasing inflammation. They effectively calm tantrums and help children learn to regulate their emotions. Hugging fosters resilience and strengthens the bond between children and parents.

A father holding his small toddler close and kissing him.

Hugging makes us feel good. Children often want to be hugged because it feels good.

A big warm cuddle can alleviate some of the pain when we are sad or disappointed. When we are happy, we want to share the joy by giving others a bear hug.

A 20-second hug can help your kid grow smarter, healthier, happier, more resilient, and closer to you.

Benefits of Hugs and Kisses

1. Hugs Help Kids Grow Smarter

Human touches are essential to brain growth.

A young child needs a lot of different sensory stimulation for normal development. 

Skin contact, or physical touch such as hugging, is one of the most important stimulations required to grow a healthy brain and a strong body​1​.

In Eastern European orphanages, infants are rarely handled or touched.

They often spend 22 to 23 hours of the day in their cribs.

Propped bottles are used to feed them, and care is routinized with minimal interpersonal interaction.

These children often face many issues, including impaired cognitive development​2​, and delayed motor skills development​3​.

In a study published in the Genetic Psychology Monographs, researchers found that institutionalized infants who received hugs for an additional 20 min of tactile stimulation (interpersonal touch) per day for ten weeks scored higher in developmental assessments than those who didn’t​4​.

They also found that not all types of touch were beneficial. Only a nurturing touch, such as gentle hugging, can provide the positive stimulation a young brain needs to grow healthily​5,6​.

2. Hugs Help Kids Grow

Physical contact is also essential to a child’s physical growth.

Physicians have found that when children are deprived of physical contact, their bodies stop growing despite normal intake of nutrients.

This condition is called failure-to-thrive.

Failure to thrive is a type of growth deficiency.

The health of children who suffer from failure-to-thrive can be improved when nurturing touches and hugs are provided​7–9​.

One of the reasons why mothers hugging children is associated with physical growth is that it triggers the release of oxytocin, also known as the love hormone.

This feel-good hormone has many positive effects on our bodies.

One of them is growth stimulation.

Studies show that hugging can instantly boost the level of oxytocin.

When oxytocin is increased, several growth hormones, such as insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-1) and nerve growth factor (NGF), increase as well​10​

As a result, the nurturing touch of a hug enhances a child’s growth​11,12​.

3. Hugs Keep Kids Healthy

There are many health benefits of hugging and kissing your baby. Hugs can promote our physical health and help us heal.

Oxytocin, released when hugging, is a hormone that has amazing power and benefits our bodies.

For example, the increased level of oxytocin can strengthen our immune response by lowering the plasma levels of thyroid hormones and decreasing inflammation​13​ , causing wounds to heal faster​​.

Oxytocin also facilitates social support, improving the outcomes of various health-related conditions.

4. Hugs Stop Temper Tantrums

Hugs are good for a child’s emotional health. Nothing can calm a tantrum-throwing toddler faster than a great big hug from the parent. 

Many parents worry that hugging a tantrum-throwing child is rewarding bad behavior with attention. But it is not.

Hugging a child is not the same as giving in (which does encourage bad behavior).

Hugging without giving in is helping a child learn to self-regulate.

Regulating one’s emotions is like driving a car. In our bodies, two separate mechanisms control our emotions.

The arousal branch in our nervous system speeds up our emotions, while the calming branch can put a brake on our arousal.

Emotion dysregulation happens the arousal branch is overactive, and the calming branch is underactive.

That means the gas pedal is pressed all the way down while the brake is broken.

So, when a child cries intensely, they are driving an emotional runaway car.

A child driving a real runaway car needs to be saved, not ignored or punished by being let crash.

Similarly, a child in an emotional runaway car must be saved first.

Hugging can save a child from having an emotional crash.

Oxytocin calms the arousal branch to reduce psychological stress​14​ and relieve anxiety in people. It also activates the calming branch by creating an anti-anxiety effect​15,16​.

5. Hugs Build Resilience

At birth, a child’s nervous system is not mature enough to regulate big emotions by itself.

Toddlers having intense emotions have a hard time stopping because of this.

They are not being stubborn or defiant.

During distress, a high cortisol level is released, circulating through the body and the brain.

When left for a prolonged period due to a young child’s inability to regulate, this toxic level of stress hormone will have aversive effects on the child’s health, both physically and mentally. 

This is why we should not let a child go into an emotional crash.

Studies show that excessive exposure to stress hormones can compromise a child’s immune system resulting in more illness.

The pathogenic effects of frequent tension affect memory and verbal reasoning capabilities later in life. It can also lead to depression when the child grows up​17​.

Hugging a dysregulated child not only helps them regulate but also allows them to experience their emotions being regulated.

This crucial early life experience is how a child learns to develop self-regulation skills and build resilience​18​.

Hugging also helps children become more resilient by reducing the negative impact of conflicts.

In one study, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University examined the impact of hugging on conflict exposure. 404 people were interviewed every night for 14 consecutive days about their conflicts and the hugs received.

They found that when exposed to conflicts, individuals who had more hugs were less upset​19​.

Hugs apparently were able to facilitate positive adaptation to these conflicts.

The ability to adapt positively to challenges is an important element in building resilience in children.

Also See: What Is The Worst Age To Lose A Parent

6. Hugs Make Happy Kids

Hugs enhance a person’s psychological resources.

Psychological resources, such as optimism, mastery, and self-esteem, refer to individual differences that are directly predictive of physical and psychological health​20​.

Optimism refers to the extent to which people hold favorable expectations about the future.

Mastery involves the belief that one can determine one’s own behavior, influence one’s environment, and bring about desired outcomes. Self-esteem refers to a person’s overall evaluation of self-worth.

These three resources are closely interrelated to create a stress-buffering effect.

Oxytocin released during hugging bolsters these resources making a child feel loved​21​ and happy in life.

7. Hugs Help Child and Parents Bond

Hugs increase trust​21​. Trust is indispensable in building strong personal relationships.

Oxytocin increases one’s willingness to reduce fear, accept risk, and trust others to improve relationships. It also increases a child’s attachment security, leading to secure attachment and improved parent-child bonding​22–24​.

Make this good parenting practice a part of your everyday child rearing practices.

How Many Hugs A Day Does A Child Need

A family therapist has been famously quoted as saying, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” 

Whenever people talk about hugging, they use these guidelines.

Psychology, however, hasn’t been able to pinpoint one specific magic number of hugs that humans need to function and feel good every day.

The number of hugs babies need a day has not been conclusively determined by researchers as of yet.

Baby hugs are generally recommended several times a day by psychologists.

Hospitals often recommend that new parents use kangaroo care for the beneficial effects of hugs.

Final Thoughts

Hugging has all kinds of benefits. But respecting body autonomy is also important.

Teaching kids how to kindly refuse a hug and handle uncomfortable situations is a good lesson for the child, too.

Next time, give your child a big gentle cuddle, with permission, of course, and give them the amazing benefits of hugging and cuddling.


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