The Value of a Hug: One Important Thing You Can Do for Your Child Today
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the enormity of how much it appears you should be doing for your kids? There’s information everywhere you look — blogs, books, scientific reports, newscasts, friends and relatives — all proclaiming parenting advice. With so many messages flying at you, it may be easy to feel inadequate or guilty as you question whether you’re doing enough to nurture your kids.
Here’s one simple thing you can do each day that may be the most important act you can do for the health and happiness of your kids:
Give them a hug.
It may not seem like a big deal, but a hug can do a lot more for your kids’ well-being than you may think. There’s actually a legitimate scientific reason hugs make us feel so good. A hug can release the hormone and neurotransmitter, oxytocin.
Affectionately called the “cuddle hormone” or the “love hormone,” oxytocin increases in response to positive physical touch. A kiss, holding hands, and, yes, a hug, can all boost oxytocin levels. And as far as health benefits go, oxytocin packs a powerful punch.
In this article, we’ll explore the physical and emotional benefits of oxytocin. Since a hug naturally increases oxytocin, you’ll learn how this seemingly small act can help you connect with your kids in meaningful ways that encourage positive growth. Stick with me and you’ll discover that giving a hug is one way you can feel good knowing you’re focusing on something that really is important for your kids.
What can a little hug-induced oxytocin do?
First, oxytocin can nurture feelings of empathy and generosity. A study conducted by neuroeconomist Paul J. Zak of demonstrates this link. In his research, participants were given a dose of oxytocin or a placebo. They were then offered the opportunity to divide a sum of money with a stranger. The participants who received the oxytocin gave 80% more money than those who received a placebo. When your child considers the feelings of someone else, a boost in oxytocin can encourage them to give more of themselves. Giving our kids hugs can help them become kinder and more considerate.
Do you ever worry over all those germs your kids are exposed to at school? Well, a little extra oxytocin can actually boost their immune systems. It helps fight fatigue and infections and can even encourage wounds to heal faster.
Since it can reduce cortisol levels, oxytocin also acts as a stress reliever. If your child is worried over a big test or just scared by a frightening movie, a hug becomes a channel to pass along peace. The physical touch of a hug brings a level of comfort and security during stressful or fearful situations.
On a deeper note, oxytocin may be able to treat the persistent fear and anxiety associated with an anxiety disorder. It has also been shown to act as an antidepressant and can be used to reduce cravings for addictions. Significantly, these benefits show that placing greater emphasis on creating positive physical and social connections with our kids can potentially combat the rise in mental health issues affecting more and more youth today.
Further, oxytocin builds feelings of trust and attachment. In other words, those hugs you give your kids can strengthen your relationships with each other. And kids these days may just be missing out on those connections. Research suggests that youth can spend up to 9 hours on an electronic device each day. According to licensed clinical mental health counselor Dr. Christy Kane, this generation’s teens aren’t receiving as much oxytocin because they’re spending more time isolated on a screen than in social and physical contact with others. Consequently, she tells parents “the best thing in the world is 8 hugs a day for 8 seconds for every member of the family.”
Did I mention that all of these benefits of oxytocin are reciprocal? A hug boosts oxytocin levels in both the hugger and the receiver, so you’ll both reap the benefits. The key is in creating the connection.
So what if your kid isn’t into hugs?
Don’t worry. A pat on the back, a high-five, a brush on the shoulder, even eye to eye contact — any form of positive physical and social connection — counts. What really matters is that we are making the effort to connect with our kids, that we are letting them know through our attention and actions that we love them, that they aren’t alone, and that they are valued.
Simply put, a hug becomes a way to create meaningful connections with your kids each day. Not only can that hug boost their emotional and physical health by giving an extra dose of oxytocin, but it can also communicate your love, your support, and all those emotions you may not have the words to express.
So as you consider what’s the most important thing you can do for your kids today, it very well might be to just give them a hug. The more you connect with your kids, the happier and healthier you’ll both be.