Have you ever received a hug from someone and felt better afterwards? Have you ever been one to dole out a hug and feel the hugee relax in your arms? There’s something about a hug that changes our chemistry.
In the movie Temple Grandin, Temple creates a machine that basically hugs her, she says something like this about the device, “Getting a hug connects something in the brain, you can feel it, and when I’m in my squeeze machine, I feel better.”
Whether your child is biological, adopted, foster, or has Autism, hugs are beneficial for everyone. Here’s why:
- Hugs calm us. If you’ve ever felt stressed when you were embraced by someone, it’s possible that anxiety lessened. This is especially true if you have a connection with the person giving the hug. There are times when I’ve been hugged during a tumultuous time and that hug made everything that was overwhelming me seem less important.
- Hugs create feelings of acceptance. When you embrace someone it usually means you like them. (Okay, there are exceptions, but it’s generally the rule.) Our hurting children deal with intense feelings of rejection. Even when they join a family who loves them dearly, they wonder constantly if they’ll be accepted. Do they like who I am? Do they think I’m dirty, because my last foster home didn’t let me wear deodorant? I look different than them, they can’t possibly love me like their other children. The questions continue and expand. When we hug our children (begin appropriately, because you don’t know your child’s complete history), we are showing them we accept who they are and love them. We hold nothing back when we hug someone. It’s complete acceptance.
- Hugs make us feel safe. When you put your arms around your child they feel safe. They may not recognize it at first, but eventually they will recognize that you’ll keep them out of harms way. When we went to our only counseling session with Payton, the therapist saw how she hugged me and she made a declaration, “See how she’s hugging you. She’s placing her arms above yours (I was sitting, Payton was standing), which means she thinks she’s in control of the relationship.” When you hug someone next time, notice where their arms are. I wouldn’t say what this therapist said is true 100% of the time, but often it is. When we place our arms around a child (usually above their arms), it communicates that we are taking care of them. When we hug a friend, it’s kind of like a figure eight, 50/50, one arm above, one arm below. If a husband is hugging a wife, his arms are usually on top, not in a controlling way (or I hope not), but in a protective way. We want our children to feel safe, so we hug them, showing them we will protect them.
For children with Autism, their world may be spinning because of sensory issues, a hug may center them and make them feel safe. If they’re in a new environment they may feel more secure with you close by. Just because a child with Autism doesn’t seem like they care about your proximity, they do.
Of course, there are some Autistic kids who don’t want to be hugged. In that case you can put your arm around their shoulder, try different approaches to see what works. Never stop trying. One month your child may hate hugs, the next they may accept them and want more.
- Hugs encourage. Even the strongest individual, whether it be a hurting child or mature adult, when confronted with daunting circumstances, can be greatly encourage by the simple gesture of an arm around the shoulders. It communicates on a neurological and emotional level, it truly is going to be okay, and even if it isn’t, they’re going to be okay. A hug makes us feel like we can do it.
- Hugs heal our children. For the child who’s come from trauma, it’s especially important to give out hugs regularly. If you wonder how important hugs are, consider what Dr. Mercola says, “…consider that children who aren’t hugged have delays in walking, talking, and reading.”
- Hugs help us grow. Family therapist Virginia Satir said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.”
Have you ever felt better after a hug? When you’ve hugged your child have you ever seen it make a difference in their demeanor?
Hug your children today. Hug your spouse today. Hug a friend today.
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