In 1995, a pair of twins, Brielle and Kyrie Jackson, were born 12 weeks premature. Each weighed only about 2 pounds. One of them was not expected to survive.
At three weeks old, one twin went into critical condition. Her heart rate was soaring. Her oxygen level was dropping quickly, and she was turning blue. The nurses tried everything, but nothing worked. They were about to lose her.
Then one nurse, Gale Kasparian, decided to put the stronger twin next to her sister in the same incubator, a novel procedure that has never been done before at the time in the US. The standard practice at that time was to place twin babies in separate incubators to reduce the risk of infection.
Once the twins were together, the baby snuggled up to Kyrie, the stronger twin. As soon as Kyrie put her arm around her sister, the vital signs including breathing and heart rate of the weaker twin instantly stabilized. They called this the rescuing hug.
Without this rescuing hug, the weaker twin baby wouldn’t have survived.
The hug has helped change medicine in the US.
Hug a Toddler in Tantrum to Help Them Regulate
Hugging doesn’t just “feel good.” It can regulate our bodies, like how it regulated the twin baby’s body and saved her life. Hugging stimulates the release of oxytocin, a hormone that has a calming effect. A parent can calm a toddler in a tantrum almost instantly by hugging them.
When a child’s body is flooded with stress hormones during a tantrum, the most effective way to clam them down is by hugging them or applying positive touch on the bodies, such as holding hands or rubbing their backs.
Unfortunately, some parents resist this idea. The most common reason is that “hugging is rewarding bad behavior.”
Humans are not born with the ability to self-regulate. When we’re young, we rely on our parents to regulate our bodies and to model how to do it. Therefore, withholding hugs to punish a child doesn’t service a purpose.
An emotional tantrum is not behavior (non-emotional tantrum is slightly different, but can still use a hug). It is caused by out-of-control emotions when the child’s body and brain are flooded with stress hormones. If a parent withholds hugs to “teach the child a lesson”, not only do they punish a child for things they cannot control, but the parent also denies their child the one tool that can help them regulate. It is also very tragic if a parent believes their child needs to throw a tantrum to get a hug as a reward because they cannot get enough love and care in their daily lives.
Related: Calm the Tantrums
Physical Touch For Survival
Besides calming, oxytocin has another effect. It can stimulate the release and functioning of growth hormones1,2.
New parents are encouraged to use Kangaroo Care with their premature babies. Kangaroo Care is a prolonged skin-to-skin contact that can help preemies stabilize and grow.
Human needs physical touches to survive. Children who grow up lacking physical touches can suffer from failure-to-thrive feeding disorder3,4.
Hugging is not a luxury or a reward for children. It’s a human need to survive.
Check out more facts about hugs.
- 1.Kuhn CM, Schanberg SM. Responses to maternal separation : mechanisms and mediators. International Journal of Developmental Neuroscience. June 1998:261-270. doi:10.1016/s0736-5748(98)00034-3
- 2.Carro E, Nuñez A, Busiguina S, Torres-Aleman I. Circulating Insulin-Like Growth Factor I Mediates Effects of Exercise on the Brain. J Neurosci. April 2000:2926-2933. doi:10.1523/jneurosci.20-08-02926.2000
- 3.POLAN HJ, WARD MJ. Role of the Mother’s Touch in Failure to Thrive: A Preliminary Investigation. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. October 1994:1098-1105. doi:10.1097/00004583-199410000-00005
- 4.FELDMAN R, KEREN M, GROSS-ROZVAL O, TYANO S. Mother–Child Touch Patterns in Infant Feeding Disorders: Relation to Maternal, Child, and Environmental Factors. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. September 2004:1089-1097. doi:10.1097/01.chi.0000132810.98922.83