Have You Hugged Your Child Today?

by: Diane Flynn Keith
posted: February 19, 2005

Don't you just love my new hat?  It's the latest fashion trend.

You've no doubt seen bumper stickers asking, "Have you hugged your child today?" It's not just a nice sentiment. It's a reminder that children need physical affection as much as they need food, water, and air for healthy development. Numerous studies show that newborns who are deprived of human touch do not thrive, and may die.

Children who do not receive enough physical affection can suffer from physical, emotional, social, and psychological illness - including depression.

Once a child graduates from infant carriers, slings, and backpacks, their instinctive need for human contact will drive them to beg to be lifted up and held. They'll surprise you with a spontaneous hug, sit in your lap, hold your hand, cuddle, ask for horsey-back rides, play with your hair, stroke your arm or back, and find innumerable ways to get bodily contact. Playful tickling and wrestling are other ways children make contact.

The need for physical displays of affection stays with us throughout our lives. Yet, as our children grow older, we tend to touch or hug them less often. This is, in part, due to our social and cultural conditioning. But to embrace your child in your arms with a hug is to give the gift of life, health, and well-being. It is a moment in time when they have your undivided attention and feel safe, secure, and loved.

My own father seemed to instinctively understand that need for physical contact with his children. From the time we were little, daily hugs were required. He has carried on a similar tradition with his grandchildren and great grandchildren. The minute he sees them he asks, "Where's my hug?" The kids can't run into his arms fast enough. :)

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When I was a child, my dad worked long hours at his business. He left for work early in the morning, and arrived home late in the evening. Because my siblings and I had homework, or he had paperwork to do, we didn't get a chance to interact much at night.

To let us know that he cared, he would get up half an hour early in the morning so that after he was dressed and ready for work, he could wake us up for school. He would quietly come into our rooms, and gently give us a back rub to let us know it was time to wake up and get ready for school.

People who give and receive hugs daily have reported reduced stress, a sense of invigoration and joy, and they enjoy better health.
I was the only kid I knew, who didn't wake to the blare of an alarm clock. My dad did that for my brother, sister and me every morning of our elementary school year lives. Often, as he rubbed our backs he'd whisper a word or two of enouragement and tell us he loved us. It is a treasured memory for each of us to this day, and a tradition we carried on with our own children.

Whether you give your child a hug, a back rub, a shoulder massage, or just reach out and lightly touch their arm, hand or shoulder as you speak to them -- don't underestimate the power of touch as a natural expression of showing how much you love and care about them.

A hug is a warm circle of embrace that is a signal of acceptance and inclusion. Family or group hugs reinforce togetherness and belonging. People who give and receive hugs daily have reported reduced stress, a sense of invigoration and joy, and they enjoy better health. Hugs boost the body's immune system and are beneficial to both the giver and the receiver.

Give your little ones their minimum daily requirement of warm and heartfelt affection with a daily dose of hugs.