Benefits of Hugging Kids

Updated
Do you know all the important reasons it’s essential to hug your child?

When you wrap your arms around your child, you are doing much more than you realize. A hug is so much bigger than just fleeting physical contact (1).

Research shows that hugs play a role in your child’s emotional, cognitive, and physical growth. Hugs help teach your child about emotions and human kindness. And, just when you thought they couldn’t get any better, hugs can help your child fight off infections.

Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of hugging kids.


Benefits of Hugging Kids

1. Hugs Make Our Kids Smarter

Not sure about this one? Maybe this study will convince you about the benefits of hugs (2).

A long-term study of children in Romanian orphanages showed that the children received only as much physical contact as was needed to take care of their basic needs. They did not receive any hugs at all.

As they grew, these children displayed significant developmental delays. And, not only that, these children did not appear to make cognitive gains when they were placed with adoptive parents. All the loving hugs in the world at this later stage were not enough to reverse the developmental delays seen in the kids who were not hugged (3).

2. Hugs Help To Keep Our Kids “Heart Healthy”

One study showed steadier and calmer heart rates in infants over four months old when they received hugs from parents (4).

Many issues with heart health are the result of long-term elevations in heart rate and blood pressure.

Meanwhile, gentle, wanted physical contact is shown to reduce blood pressure, and lower the heart rate (5).

When you sit your child on your lap or get down to their level and hug them, you are helping your child to physically and mentally relax. As a consequence of this relaxation, your child’s heart rate will eventually slow, and their blood pressure will fall to a healthy level.

So, giving your children plenty of hugs may contribute to better long-term heart health. Plus, it’s something you’ll both enjoy anyway.

3. Hugs Help The Physical Growth Of Our Kids

It’s not fully understood how, but it has been shown that children who receive plenty of physical touch and affection, including hugs, have healthier patterns of growth than those who are touch-deprived.

This doesn’t mean that, by hugging your child all day, every day, you will be able to stimulate growth beyond that which is genetically predetermined. But a lack of hugs and physical contact is linked to a child not reaching their full, predetermined growth potential.

4. Hugs Help To Stop Temper Tantrums

Hugs can stop temper tantrums in two ways.

They can help bring a quicker end to a temper tantrum. When your child is having a meltdown, they have usually lost sight of what triggered it. Their tantrum takes on a life of its own, and they can find it difficult to stop shouting, screaming, or thrashing about.

By going to your child when they are having a temper tantrum and giving them a hug, you may provide a kind of grounding influence (6). This can help your child calm down, ending the tantrum faster than other interventions such as letting them “scream it out.”

The other way in which hugs can help stop temper tantrums is a more long term effect. By hugging your child and teaching them how to be more relaxed and calm, you will decrease the likelihood that they will become overwhelmed by their emotions and descend into a tantrum.

5. Hugs Help Make Our Kids Happy

Children who do not experience many hugs have been shown to have markedly lower levels of oxytocin (7).

Oxytocin is the “feel good” hormone that our brain releases in response to certain stimuli. The stimuli can be things such as a glass of wine, a square of chocolate or a hug (8).

Children who experience lots of hugs during their childhood are generally happy, and this heightened level of happiness follows them into adulthood. What is the flip side of that? Children who receive fewer hugs showed lower levels of happiness, not only during childhood, but also into adulthood.

Remember, the benefits of hugging can sometimes be felt even decades later (9).

6. Hugs Help Your Child Build Emotional Resilience

One study has shown that hugging someone can reduce stress (10). When you are hugging your child, you are reducing their stress levels as well as your own.

So, when your child is hugged more often, they are generally less stressed. This enables them to remain calm in the face of future stressors. They learn to deal with the ups and downs of life in a less emotionally reactive way.

7. Hugs Help Your Child Build Emotional Bonds

Researchers investigating the impact of human contact on child development looked at children who had been raised in institutional settings (11).

It was found that in addition to cognitive and physical development, hugging a child has an impact on their ability to develop a bond with a caregiver.

The majority of children who were not hugged developed responses and emotional bonds that were disorganized. The children were sometimes receptive to love and support from their adoptive parents, but sometimes hesitant. They also tended to be overly friendly with strangers.

8. Hugs May Boost Your Child’s Immune System

Scientists took a group of volunteers and called them every day for two weeks, They were asked about their social relationships, in general, and whether they had been hugged that day.

Next, the volunteers were taken to a hotel and placed in quarantine. Each one was given nasal drops containing a common cold virus, and then monitored for illness.

The results? Those who received the most hugs were the least likely to get sick. Those huggers who did get sick had fewer symptoms, and were sick for a shorter duration than those who had received fewer hugs (12).

9. Hugs Can Help Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem

When you give your child a hug, you are showing them they are loved. This tells your child that they are a person who is worth loving (13).

The result of this is that you will build your children’s self-esteem by teaching them that they are worth hugging. Low self-esteem can set the stage for poor choices later in life, including drug use and unhealthy relationships (14).

10. Hugs Help To Teach Your Child About Empathy

Another subconscious lesson learned through hugging is one of empathy.

When you hug your child, you do more than show them love. You are also teaching your child how to recognize and identify with the feelings of others.

Your child, therefore, learns how the actions of others have the potential to positively impact other people.

FAQs About Hugging

How Many Hugs Do You Need a Day?

There are no hard and fast rules about how many hugs you might need each day.

But some experts think we need several at least (15).

While this is just one opinion, it is likely that, when it comes to hugs, it’s a case of the more the better.

When Should You Stop Hugging Your Kids?

As long as they are happy to be hugged, you should never stop hugging your kids. All of those health benefits apply whether your child is 5, 25, or 75!

How Long Should You Hug Your Children?

A hug can last as long as you want or just for a second. It depends on the situation.

If your child is upset, they might want to sit on your lap, and have a long, soothing cuddle. Or, a quick hug before running off to play may be all that’s required.

Don’t try to make the hug an activity that you time. Instead, let the frequency and duration of your hugs be dictated by you, your child, and the situation.

My Child Wants to Hug Me All The Time

A child who wants to hug a caregiver “all of the time” is not a problem. As long as the caregiver is happy with the situation and the hugging doesn’t interfere with regular, day-to-day life, it is fine.

However, if your child’s need to be hugged is becoming an issue for you, it is important to be cognizant of your child’s emotions and feelings if you decide to decrease the hugging.

Don’t push your child away, tell them to “leave you alone”, or say that they are “too old or too big” for hugs. Instead, look for ways to distract your child when a hug is not appropriate.

It’s also important to investigate the reason for your child’s need to hug all of the time. Is this a sudden need that is in response to a change in their life? Or have they always been a cuddly child whose need to hug has just become rather difficult now that they are older?


No Excuse Needed

Hugging your child is great for sharing warm and snuggly feelings. But, there is also scientific evidence to show that kids need hugs to grow, develop, and become kind, considerate, and well-adjusted human beings.

Now, all you need to do is work out how to get that wriggly bundle of energy and excitement to sit still long enough to enjoy your hugs. Make sure you give plenty of hugs to your child every day — you’ll both benefit.

Headshot of Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP

Reviewed by

Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP

Leah Alexander, M.D. FAAP is board certified in General Pediatrics and began practicing pediatrics at Elizabeth Pediatric Group of New Jersey in 2000. She has been an independently contracted pediatrician with Medical Doctors Associates at Pediatricare Associates of New Jersey since 2005. Outside of the field of medicine, she has an interest in culinary arts.
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