Hugging relieves stress in you and your child.

How Do Hugs Help Children Grow?

by Shala Munroe

Hugging your child daily might seem like a no-brainer, but it's sometimes easy to forget as moms rush through busy days of work, day care or preschool, meals, baths and bedtime. Hugging isn't just for fixing boo-boos; it also helps your child grow into a smart, well-adjusted, happy and confident person.

1. Stress Levels

You aren't a stranger to stress, and your children learn how to deal with stress by watching you. Even babies and toddlers can feel stressed. Taking a few seconds for a quick hug can make all the difference for them and for you. According to CNN Health, hugging releases the bonding hormone oxytocin and helps reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol. As this lowers your child's stress level, it can reduce her heart rate and help her enjoy lower blood pressure throughout her life.

2. Brain Development

Hugging might not be the magic bean that makes kids smarter, but you can give your children a chance for enhanced brain development by giving them daily hugs. According to a 2012 study by the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis entitled "Maternal Support in Early Childhood Predicts Larger Hippocampal Volumes at School Age," hugging your child as part of a nurturing home environment helps her develop a hippocampus up to 10 percent larger than those of children from non-nurturing homes. The hippocampus is the brain region that handles learning, memory and stress response. In this case, bigger is definitely better.

3. Emotional Development

Giving your child a quick squeeze as often as you think about it helps her develop self-confidence and builds her self-esteem, according to SmartParenting.com. Children raised with lots of hugs tend to be more expressive as adults, while those who aren't hugged often are less comfortable with physical contact later in life. Hugging affirms your child's place in the family and acknowledges your love for her, which gives her confidence throughout childhood and adulthood.

4. Making Time for Hugs

Family therapist Virginia Satir, quoted on Aha!Parenting.com, says people need four hugs per day to survive, eight for maintenance and 12 for growth. That doesn't mean it's easy to remember to stop what you're doing several times each day to hug your little one. Creating a simple hug routine can help, and it gives you and your child something to look forward to. For example, hug her first thing in the morning and sing a good morning song. Hug her again after breakfast or when you drop her off at day care or preschool. Open your arms again right after she wakes up from a nap or when you pick her up in the afternoons, and save some time for hugs and snuggles before bed. In between, watch for moments that seem hug-friendly, such as when she starts to pout. Wrap her in a big bear hug and tell her, "I can tell from your face that you're out of hugs. Here's a great, big one!"

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