You know first-hand what it feels like to squeeze your little one in a big bear hug, and sometimes you might wish to never let them go. But have you ever stopped to think about how the act of hugging itself affects kids? The effects may surprise you!
Lowers blood pressure. Because hugs relax your muscles and ease tension, it is thought that a 20 second hug can lower your blood pressure, leading to healthier hearts and circulatory systems. This may not be the biggest indicator within children, but it is still a great health benefit to be aware of.
Increases hormone oxytocin. The chemical in your brain responsible for feeling love and other pleasant emotions is oxytocin, which can be increased by a hug due to a human need for physical contact. This hormone is especially present when you are hugged by a loved one.
Builds a sense of safety. This is a much more prominent affect in children: Again, the physical contact feels like a safe space for children in a big world. Much like when young infants like to be swaddled to sleep, children (and even adults) enjoy the feeling of pressure and mild confinement, which is exactly the case in a hug.
Boosts self-esteem. A hug can make a kid feel very good about themselves, especially if the hug is a reward for doing something good (like being nice to a friend.) The physical contact aspect of the hug reiterates the meaning of the reward that much more and encourages kids to continue doing good things so they can keep feeling good about themselves.
Improves the immune system. Pressure on the sternum from a hug added to the release of oxytocin in the brain makes for a pretty great benefit from hugs: They help you get sick less! In combination, these attributes kick-start your immune system to prevent against illness. The thyroid gland is also triggered when hugging, which also releases helpful germ-fighting hormones.
Teaches empathy. Kids often need a lot of help when it comes to learning empathy. Yes, there is a level of empathy that we are born with, but fine-tuning empathy is something kids have to learn quickly, especially when around other kids. Hugs teach kids that their positive physical actions can have as much impact as their negative ones, but in a very helpful and caring way.
These are just a few of the ways that hugs can help kids (and adults!) when navigating through a big scary world. When in doubt, hug it out.