Creative Child

The Calming Magic of Hugs and Being Your Child’s Safe Place

“I have learned that there is more power in a good strong hug than in a thousand meaningful words.” - Ann Hood
by Rebecca Eanes

Family therapist Virgina Satir once said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.” How many hugs do you give your child each day? How many are you getting? I think that too few of us are getting the amount of hugs we truly need on a daily basis. Satir wasn’t just spouting fluffy words. According to scientists, the benefits go far beyond a warm and fuzzy feeling. Here are a some ways hugs are magical:

  1. Hugs reduce stress. Hugging results in a decrease of the stress hormone cortisol, says Matt Hertenstein, an experimental psychologist at DePauw University in Indiana. "Having this friendly touch, just somebody simply touching our arm and holding it, buffers the physiological consequences of this stressful response," Hertenstein says. 
  2. Hugs boost the “cuddle hormone.” In addition to decreasing cortisol, hugs increase the release of oxytocin, a neuropeptide that promotes feelings of devotion, trust, and bonding. "It really lays the biological foundation and structure for connecting to other people," Hertenstein says.
  3. Hugs ward off illness. In a study led by Sheldon Cohen, the Robert E. Doherty University Professor of Psychology in CMU's Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, researchers tested whether hugs act as a form of social support, protecting stressed people from getting sick. Their findings were published in Psychological Science, which found that greater social support and more frequent hugs protected people from the increased susceptibility to infection associated with being stressed and resulted in less severe illness symptoms.
  4. Hugs facilitate growth and development. Children need sensory stimulation for their brains to grow and develop properly. Studies looking at infants in orphanages who were rarely held found they had severe cognitive impairments, but when they were held for just 20 minutes per day for 10 weeks, they scored higher on brain development assessments. Researchers have also revealed that children who get more hugs have more developed brains. 
  5. Hugs help children regulate their emotions. In a process called co-regulation, hugging helps tantruming or upset children calm down quicker. Cognitive neuroscientist Caroline Leaf, PhD days, “As you co-regulate with someone, the mirror neurons in their brain are activated, and this enables the person in the deregulated state to literally ‘mirror’ your calmness.”
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