What About Love? Benefits of Hugs and Love
Happy Valentine’s Day!
During this season of love, I am sharing some information about the benefits of love on sensory motor and emotional development:
There is no doubt that hugging makes most of us feel better. It helps us feel secure, more calm, and of course— loved.
Here are a few thoughts about the benefits of hugs:
1. Hugs help kids feel more self-regulated and can help decrease tempter-tantrums. Hugging can help calm the nervous system and can encourage the brain to release oxytocin, which aids in reducing stress and relieve anxiety. When you see signs of your child becoming dysregulated, ask them if you can give them a big hug and hold them snuggly for a while as they calm down.
2. Hugs and kisses are an important and safe way for kids with hyper-responsive sensory systems to experience and process touch in a positive way. Sometimes kids have a hard time with wet food textures on their face, mouth and lips, or having wet, messy faces. For this, a loving kiss from a parent can go a long way. Having these positive sensory experiences can help hypersensitive kids learn to accommodate to these sensations. A nice firm hug also provides proprioceptive and tactile input to an over-responsive sensory system, helping it to calm and accommodate.
3. Hugs can help build resiliency in children. From early stages of infancy, through toddlerhood and preschool years, children need the support of adults to help them self-regulate their emotions. When children are in heightened emotional states, they may experience increased levels of cortisol in their brain and body. By providing loving and calm experiences for children during those heightened states, including hugging, children experience their emotions becoming regulated. This helps kids learn skills to self-calm, recover and become more resilient.
4. Many, many more benefits to huggings and positive touch. There are numerous studies that highlight the benefits of hugs and touch. Outcomes include:
-Reduction in anxiety and insomnia
-Improved immune system function
-Increased feelings of happiness
-Teaches us to give and receive
-Increased bonding and stronger relationships
-Decreased food cravings
5. Hugs don’t have to be completely “off-limits” during COVID.
For people outside of your immediate safety bubble, you can still have positive touch experiences through creative ways of hugging. Matthew Miller, PhD, associate professor at the McMaster Institute for Infectious Disease Research, provides a few suggestions for safe hugging:
Wear masks. Both you and whomever you hug should wear masks that cover the nose and mouth.
Keep it short. A hug should last no more than 10 seconds.
Turn away. Point your faces in opposite directions to avoid breathing on each other. If you hug children, have them hug you around the waist, with their head turned away.
Get creative. "Try hugging people from behind so you're not breathing in each other's faces," says Dr. Miller. You can even kiss them on their head while standing behind them.
Stay dry-eyed. Masks work only when they are dry. If you're tearful, it's better to save the hug for another time.
*Go ahead and show your children, family and friends your love through a hug this Valentine’s Day*
Light KC, Grewen KM, Amico JA. More frequent partner hugs and higher oxytocin levels are linked to lower blood pressure and heart rate in premenopausal women. Biological Psychology. Published online April 2005:5-21. doi:10.1016/j.biopsycho.2004.11.00
Troy AS, Iris BM. Resilience in the face of stress: emotion regulation as a protective factor. In: Resilience and Mental Health: Challenges across the Lifespan. Vol 1. Cambridge University Press; 2011:30-44.
Weller A, Feldman R. Emotion regulation and touch in infants: the role of cholecystokinin and opioids. Peptides. Published online May 2003:779-788. doi:10.1016/s0196-9781(03)00118-9