How Hugging Your Child Could Make Them Smarter

By: Katrina Roe

The other day we had some friends round for dinner. As they were leaving, their baby asked for a cuddle. Never being one to pass up a cuddle with a baby (well, let’s be honest, with just about anyone I’m on a first name basis with) I quickly wrapped my arms around her.

We hugged. And we hugged. And we hugged.

Her family waited patiently for about three minutes while this long hug continued.

Fortunately, the baby’s mother understood my predicament. It’s an unspoken rule that when a child wants a cuddle, you let them choose when the cuddle ends. Breaking away too soon could make them feel rejected. So I waited. And waited. And waited. And the baby still clung to me, head nestled into my chest.

Gosh, I felt good after that hug!

What I didn’t know was that I was actually helping that baby’s brain grown. No, really. When you hug a baby, you actually make them smarter.

New Research Reveals Hugs Grow Children’s Brains

A new study of babies out of the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio found that the more you hug a child, the more their brain grows!

Adolescent psychologist Collett Smart comes from a huggy family. She says there’s quite a bit of research on the benefits of physical touch.

“There really is research that proves there’s significant impact on brain size… They looked at mothers in particular. They found that when mothers nurture through hugs and obviously emotional support, even right through Preschool, they see growth in the area of the brain called the hippocampus, and that’s the part of the brain which is associated with learning and memories and regulating emotions. And they think this trajectory of growth in the hippocampus is associated with higher emotional functioning right into the teen years. So there’re some fascinating long-term effects.”

“Any shortage of touch we know has detrimental effects on our health and wellbeing. We see physiological and psychologically damaging effects into later years.”

But that’s not all. Hugging also has additional health benefits.

“Touch is the first sense that we know develops in human infants. It remains the most emotionally central part of our lives,” Collett explains.

“Any shortage of touch we know has detrimental effects on our health and wellbeing. We see physiological and psychologically damaging effects into later years.”

“It’s like a natural medicine. We actually stay healthier in our mind, our body and our hearts. A 15-minute evening hug will enhance growth and weight gain in infants and children. There’re lots of benefits to touch.”

“Touch is the first sense that we know develops in human infants. It remains the most emotionally central part of our lives,” Collett explains.

Love Needs Touch To Make It Real

Collett says a study out of Oxford University has shown that touch and smell are more closely linked to our emotional life than vision or hearing. Love needs touch to make it real, she says. “Even if our children hear that they are loved, they need to physically feel that they are loved to fulfil the affection that they crave.”

“The problem, however, is that many of our kids are growing up with touch hunger.”

Collett says kids are spending a lot of time in touch-free zones because of boundaries at school and because of time spent on devices, so we have to find ways to communicate our love in order to enhance our relationships with our children.

That all sounds good to someone like me who loves hugs. But one of my children and my husband both like a bit of space. So what if our child, or another family member, doesn’t like hugs? Should we still initiate plenty of physical contact? Or should we communicate love in other ways?

“Ask your child, ‘What makes you feel loved and safe? What kind of touch can I do that you feel says ‘I love you’ to you?’”

“If you’re a huggy family, but one of children doesn’t like hugs you need to find ways that communicate love to your child, and don’t enforce your way of loving, or feeling loved, onto them,” Collett advises.

“Ask your child, ‘What makes you feel loved and safe? What kind of touch can I do that you feel says ‘I love you’ to you?’”

Collett suggests side hugs, gentle hand or arm squeezes, head massages at night, fist pumping, ruffling your kid’s hair, even rough and tumble play as alternatives to hugging.

“When they stop, we must stop. We must let them pull away and form the boundary.”

“I like that the child feels empowered enough to say ‘I need more hugs’ or ‘OK, I’m done now’. I think it communicates to them that we respect their boundaries and let them communicate to us what they need.”

Article supplied with thanks to Hope Media.

About the Author: Katrina is a radio announcer, Mum and children’s book Author.


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