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How Important is Hugging For Your Child’s Development?

We always hear that it is important for parents to spend time and be involved with their children. In fact, being engaged and present in their lives, or being emotionally available, has been shown to be important for their wellbeing and development. But how do we practice emotional availability with our children? One important way that therapist Paige Dorn suggests that this can be done is through human touch such as through hugs!

A fatherli animation to show the power of a hug for your child - created by Zishi Li

With the recent pandemic, for many families physical touch has been limited and many have experienced “touch hunger”, with a negative knock on effect for relationships. So, why is receiving hugs so good for children’s development and wellbeing? Here are 4 reasons based on research:

1. Hugs help with early brain development. An important study of children in Romanian orphanages showed that hugs are important for brain development in children. Without physical contact, the orphan's cognitive development was impaired. These deficits in cognitive development have been shown to be long‑lasting, with later physical affection unable to reverse the developmental delays. Physical affection releases oxytocin, or the “feel-good hormone”, which is linked to healthy brain development.

2. Human touch is important for growth and physical health. Children who do not receive enough sensory stimulation are shown to be developmentally delayed, with impaired growth and greater risk for serious infections. The oxytocin release after having a hug has been related to increased feeding and, thus, gaining the appropriate levels of nutrients and growth factors to maintain a healthy body weight. Factors available in breast milk also boosts their immune system to prevent infections.

3. Hugging creates an emotional bond with your child. Research shows that hugging can promote trust and strengthen the bond between you and your child. Physical affection is a basic component of positive attachment behaviours. Hugging, cuddling, and holding hands is one aspect of a healthy parent-child relationship. Hugs can make a child feel safe and loved.

4. By hugging your child you can reduce tantrums and de-stress. As most of us know, hugs can help calm and soothe children after they feel strong emotions. The reason for this is that hugs reduce the release of cortisol (the stress hormone that contributes to children feeling upset and worried). Therefore, hugs can calm your child down when they are experiencing sadness, anger, or a tantrum. You can read more about how to manage tantrums in children in our recent blog.

Remember, these benefits of hugging are for children who willingly want a hug. It is important to not force physical contact on your children.

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