Hugging is an intimate form of contact that provides proven psychological benefits that are essential to a child’s development. It’s no secret that we feel better when we are embraced with a hug, but the proven benefits actually go deeper than just a momentary second of happiness. These benefits include decreased feelings of loneliness, improved health and immune systems, and reduced stress, to name a few. Psychology Today reports that loneliness is “the new epidemic” in America, as almost half of all Americans report feelings of loneliness and isolation. Loneliness leads to depression, a higher body mass index, and problems with blood pressure regulation. Luckily, hugs and human contact have proven benefits that can combat this, especially in young children who are vulnerable.
Effects of Hugs
Giving a hug or receiving a hug releases the chemical oxytocin in the body, which reduces blood pressure and stress, making us immediately feel better. It gives us a feeling of pleasure and happiness that instantly elevates our mood. Hugs also give us necessary human contact that helps us feel included and loved. As human beings, we crave touch and community, and our brains are hardwired to understand hugs as a physical manifestation of community, inclusion, and love.
Human Touch and Child Development
Human touch is essential to brain growth in children, so it is important to incorporate hugs into your child’s early years. Sensory stimulation includes touch, and proper development requires touch. This is perhaps best seen in the example study of an orphanage, where they found that infants who spend up to 23 hours per day alone in cribs are observed to have impaired cognitive development and underdeveloped motor skills. Lack of human connection has serious longstanding impacts on the brain, and an important aspect of connection is touch. Human bodies are also susceptible to a condition that scientists call “failure to thrive”. In the absence of physical contact with other human beings, young bodies can stop growing even if they are fed and hydrated properly. A lack of oxytocin in the body prevents growth as oxytocin boosts growth hormones such as insulin growth factor I and nerve growth factor hormones. Maintaining higher levels of oxytocin can also lower plasma levels of thyroid hormones and strengthen immune systems.
Emotional Support of Hugs
Aside from the physical benefits, the emotional support that hugs can provide children with is huge. Hugs help develop emotion regulation skills that will help children learn to process complex emotions of fear and sadness. Hugging your child during difficult and highly stressful moments will reduce their stress hormones and calm their nervous system. Even if your child has done something wrong, a hug can come to their rescue and bring them back down emotionally so that you can have a more productive and constructive conversation as to what went wrong.
Especially in our conflict-ridden society that we’re living in today, a hug and human connection can do some good for all of us. So when you have a minute give your kid a hug, it will benefit them and you.