5 Reasons to be Affectionate as Parents

Happy, healthy children are those that are hugged.



(Ground Picture / shutterstock.com)

A happy, healthy family is a loving family. It’s long been known that children thrive best in environments where they witness and receive lots of love, hugs, kisses, warmth,and cuddles. Now, research is backing up things that parents knew all along – showing affection to children – and around children can positively impact their present and future life and relationships.

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Childhood affection creates calmer adults
A study from Duke Medical School that followed the lives of nearly 500 babies over the course of 30 years. One factor the researchers looked at was the impact of maternal affection on psychological development. The researchers watched mothers spend time with these 482 babies at age eight months, and rated the maternal interactions on a five-point scale ranging from negative to warm to normal to caressing to extravagant, in terms of affection shown.

Fast forward 30 years, according to a blog from the Gottman Institute the participants whose parents were the most affectionate (who were rated as caressing or affectionate) when they were eight months old experienced less emotional distress, hostility, and anxiety as adults than their cohorts who received more typical levels of affection from their mothers.

The researchers surmised that these findings could be due to oxytocin (also nicknamed the “cuddle hormone”) levels that were released in the baby’s brains as they cuddled with their very affectionate mommas.

Loved children become healthier adults
This study, looked at the blood pressure, stress hormones, cholesterol, inflammation, and 14 other health markers of more than 750 adults, to measure their “allostatic load” or risk for health or cardiac issues.

Participants also took an assessment called the Risky Families Questionnaire that asked about childhood stress, abuse, and parental affection. The study found that childhood trauma or abuse was correlated with a higher allostatic load. However, it also found that parental affection acted as a shield against the worst effects of childhood trauma. Adults who suffered abuse or stress in their childhood, but also had affectionate parents had less health risks than those who didn’t have affectionate parents. 

Judith Carroll, one of the study’s authors explained that, "If we intervene early in risky families and at places that provide care for children by educating and training parents, teachers and other caregivers in how to provide a loving and nurturing environment, we may also improve the long-term health trajectories of those kids."

Hugged kids are happier kids
The Gottman Institute shares research that found that children who grew up in affectionate homes grew into happier adults. Study participants, about 600 adults, were surveyed about the amount of physical affection they received in childhood and about their current mental health status. Not surprisingly, those who got more hugs and love as kids, were less likely to be depressed and anxious and more able to understand and empathize with others.

Affection begins in babyhood
The Gottman Institute adds that affectionate touch can help children grow from day one. Engaging in skin-to-skin contact with babies can boost their sleep, brain development, and ability to self sooth. 

Scientific American reports that this skin-to-skin touch also helps mothers bond with their babies and can ward off maternal depression. By contrast, studies that followed children in orphanages in countries where they didn’t receive significant affection in infancy showed high levels of stress hormones and delayed development later in their childhood, even after being adopted into loving homes. 

Letting dad in on the action
Hugging the kids is a great way to boost their mental, physical, psychological, and emotional health and give them a head start towards life's challenges. According to  Nashville Parent, children also benefit when they see their parents displaying (obviously G-rated) affection towards each other in front of them — things like a quick hug, a peck on the cheek, healthy communication, and telling one’s spouse that they are loved. 

Observing healthy and affectionate interactions between one’s parents as a child was nearly as beneficial in adulthood as experiencing this affection first hand. Children learn from their parents how to interact and how to communicate, so showing one’s spouse affection and communicating in healthy ways can help the child develop these skills in their future romantic and non-romantic relationships.

Affection isn’t just the glue that binds families together and fosters love and trust, it is also a potent tool that can be used to raise happy, healthy, loving children.

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