I’m sure that if you have kids, you hug them. We all know that hugging – and being hugged – makes us feel good. I’ve always believed that I’m a fairly tactile person, one who doesn’t stint on the physical affection. I’m a great hugger. But then I started asking myself some questions.
How often do I hug my kids? Daily? I think so. If we count cuddling in bed or on the sofa as ‘hugging,’ then yes, certainly.
Do I hug our ten-year-old son less often than our six-year-old? Probably. Partly because he’s never been much of a hugger, but also because he’s entering the perilous tween years when kids often want to show their independence and maturity by eschewing physical contact with their parents. Unfortunately, “in doing so, adolescents can create a loss that they never quite get over – the letting go of a powerful non-verbal intimacy with parents,” writes Dr. Carl Pickhardt in Psychology Today. As this graph shows, the tendency to hug, lamentably, decreases with age. (Only 50% of fathers hug their 10-12 year-old children daily? That, for lack of a better word, sucks.)
So do I hug our boys frequently enough? And how often is enough? It’s long been known, and numerous scientific studies have shown, that physical contact is crucial for the proper physical and emotional development of young children. There’s even a Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine. But are there guidelines for this sort of thing? While it seems unnecessary, ludicrous even, there are.
Author and psychotherapist Virginia Satir puts it this way: “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”
Oh, man, I’m coming in at waaay under 12 hugs a day. Let’s see – one in the morning, one before bed, and maybe one somewhere there in the middle. Not even survival-level hugging. How the hell do you manage 12 hugs a day, especially with older kids?
Dr. Laura Markham, editor of Aha! Parenting, recommends that you “find little excuses. Give them a kiss on the top of the head. Hold hands at the dinner table. If your kid is having a hard time, sit next to them and put your arms around them.”
While these things are not, strictly speaking, hugging, they do fall under the category of physical affection, so we’ll let them count. To get to 12 a day, we’ll have to.
Not only are their guidelines for frequency, but there even exist suggestions for the duration of hugs. Six seconds. That seems to be the number that’s pretty much universally agreed upon. It’s the minimum amount of hug-time required for the body to release the happy-juice hormones oxytocin and seratonin. Six seconds. That’s a pretty long hug. So not only am I falling short on frequency, I’m also deficient in duration.
I am absolutely crap at hugging. And I didn’t even know it. But, in honor of National Hugging Day (yes, it’s really a thing, and it takes place January 21), I’m changing my ways. After all, check out ten of the benefits of hugging that you’ll find on the NHD website.
1) Hugs make us feel “happy”! When we hug another person, our bodies release oxytocin, a hormone associated with “happiness,” according to scientific studies.
2) Hugs alleviate stress! Just as a good hug increases our oxytocin levels, it decreases our cortisol or “stress” levels.
3) Babies need hugs as much as water and food! According to researchers at Harvard University, hugs help promote normal levels of cortisol necessary for child development.
4) Hugs make us better students! Students who receive a supportive touch from a teacher are twice as likely to volunteer in class.
5) Hugs improve our game! Scientists at University of California, Berkley discovered that the more affectionate members of a team are with each other, the more likely they are to win.
6) A hug a day keeps the doctor away! A hug stimulates the thymus gland, which in turn regulates the production of white blood cells that keep us healthy and disease-free.
7) A hug stops the bug! Researchers at Carnegie Mellon proved that individuals who were sick and received hugs had less severe symptoms and were able to get better quicker.
8) A hugging heart is a healthy heart! Research from the University of North Carolina showed that a good hug helps ease blood flow and lower cortisol levels, which in turn help lower our heart rates.
9) A hugging couple is a happy couple! Couples that experience their partners’ love through physical affection share higher oxytocin levels.
10) Hugs let someone know you care without having to say a word! According to Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology at University of California, Berkeley, we can identify love from simple human touch – imagine how much love a big hug can communicate!
While I think the folks over at National Hugging Day demonstrate a regrettable over-fondness for exclamation marks, you can’t fault their arguments!!!
A good friend told me a while back that he had been deeply influenced by something my father had once said. Kevin had come to visit while my wife and I were staying with my parents. When I introduced him to them, there was an awkward moment when it seemed like he couldn’t decide whether to shake their hands or give them a hug. He laughed and confessed his confusion to them. My father, apparently (although I don’t remember this, Kevin clearly does), had said, “When in doubt, always hug.”
I wish I had hugged my father more. I wish I had hugged everyone more. But it’s never too late to start.