- Family and Parenting
Hugs Make Happy Children
Have You Hugged Your Child Today?
I looked at my daughter and knew she needed a hug. She had a glazed look in her eyes, like she was no longer there, just drifting around in the clouds. Her mood was slightly elevated as she bounced off the walls while continuously saying, "Mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy, look, mommy, mommy..." It made sense, the day had been hectic. We had visited her new kindergarten classroom, went to her cousin's first soccer game, and then cleaned up the house for my husband's birthday party. Quite simply, my daughter was overly tired. At that moment, when I noticed she needed a hug, the party was still in high gear and my daughter just had that look. I reached down, picked her up, and gave her a hug. My daughter instantly wrapped her legs around my body and stroked my back. There was a moment of peace between the two of us. A few minutes later I put her down and she skipped off to play. She turned around for a brief moment, smiled, and I knew she was "there" again.
When you hug your child you instantly feel a very intense emotion. Your whole body relaxes and the cares of the day are forgotten. You feel the same response in your child. Sometimes they act silly, hanging on to your body like a monkey. Other times you feel your child melt into your body, like a puzzle piece finding the best fit. It's such a simple pleasure, but the benefits are astounding.
Hugs release a powerful hormone in our brains called oxytocin. This hormone plays a significant role during and after labor as a woman's body releases huge amounts of oxytocin, facilitating birth and breastfeeding. Recent studies have begun to investigate oxytocin's role in various behaviors, including social recognition, pair bonding, and maternal behavior. The inability to produce this hormone, which determines the ability to feel empathy, is linked to narcissism and manipulativeness. By just hugging the people we care about, by sharing this simple pleasure throughout the day, we encourage the release of oxytocin and create happy people.
The benefits of oxytocin can be felt whenever we are close to our family, friends and even pets. The more hugs we give and receive stimulates our oxytocin system, producing a faster response the next time we share a hug with the people we care about. Even thinking about our loved ones helps produce this powerful hormone. Other benefits include: lower levels of stress hormones, lower blood pleasure, mood improvement, and an increased tolerance to pain. Wow!
Most of what we know about the benefits of oxytocin comes from animal research. In one study, researchers separated puppies from their mothers for 10-15 minutes a day and then reunited them. Once reunited, the mothers were so happy to see their puppies they licked and groomed them intensively over a long period of time. However, if the separation lasted too long, it had the complete opposite effect. Instead, the long separated mothers would not lick or groom their puppies. This study showed that the puppies who were groomed and cared for when reunited with their mothers became more comfortable and confident exploring different environments. The puppies that were not groomed developed anxiety disorders, produced higher levels of stress hormones, and had higher blood pressure ("Power of Love." National Institutes of Health. February 2007 <http://newsinhealth.nih.gov/index.html>).
My childhood was a big hugfest, one big hug after another. My parents had one general rule at bedtime- never go to sleep angry and always hug each other good-night. I think that's why our family arguments never lasted very long. It is very hard to hold onto anger once the sun comes up. As a teenager I pretended to be "too cool" for such affection, but secretly I depended on that loving contact with my parents. So, as an adult I still hug my parents as much as possible. For me it is the same as breathing. Now, as a mother, my general family rule is simple. You can never give too many hugs. You can never love too much. I hope, after growing up with a family of huggers, my daughter will pass on the same love to her children.
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