Dear parents, hug your children as often as you can. Tell them you love them, trust them and believe in them. Do not think you will spoil them (spoiling is when you do their chores instead of them). On the contrary, abundant hugs and expressions of love help them grow into self-confident, happy, self-aware and responsible persons who will be able to make wise and mature decisions.

International Hugging Day is on 21 January. Although it looks like an everyday act of friendship, hugs and physical expressions of affection in general have an important role in the emotional development of children. That is the reason why hugs deserve an international day, consideration and professional attention.

When the newborns are brought into this world, they cannot take care of themselves. However, they have the inborn tendency of seeking interaction and relationship with adult carers. Thus attachment is developed – lasting and deep emotional connection which ensures survival of the child both physically and emotionally. Although the child most often develops attachment with the mother, contrary to previous understanding, it may be any adult taking care of the child. In most cases the child has one attachment figure, but later there may be more than one. Each attachment figure is valuable in the child’s life and enriches it. When we perceive that the child seeks to realise and maintain contact with an adult (especially when upset), we can talk about the signs of attachment which are clearly visible at the age of six to eight months. Still, studies and clinical practice show that attachment develops from birth.

Even the young infants communicate their needs and emotions to persons taking care of them. They do not have to do it in words, but with movements, facial expressions, smiles, looks, crying, babbling, body posture, etc. The adult caring about the child’s needs and emotions becomes the attachment figure. The child looks her/him in the eye, stretches arms out, smiles, calls, follows, seeks proximity, calms down with him/her, shows that person what s/he has perceived or made…

Children can develop several attachment styles, which significantly determines their emotional development, both in childhood and in adulthood. Secure attachment is present in about 60 percent of children, while some types of insecure attachments are present in others. Secure attachment develops when the carer is attuned with the child and responds to the child’s needs adequately. Children with secure attachment receive the message that they are valuable and important, that others will be there for them when necessary. They will relate to themselves and others that way, which is especially important for their future relationship with partners and emotional self-regulation.

Parents are often confused with all the instructions given by professionals, e.g. – when we say that parents should be attuned and respond to their child’s needs, many parents do not know what exactly it means. Does it mean fulfilling every wish? No, it does not. But it does mean experiencing the child’s emotional needs to be as important as the child’s physical needs – needs for food, water, care, sleep… Hugs can calm down an upset child, send a message the parent loves him/her, create a positive experience of one’s body, etc. This is especially important for very young children who cannot say what they feel and what exactly they need. Sometimes the children themselves are not sure about that and do not know how to share it with adults. In such situations hugs are therapeutic. Studies show that babies calm down listening to heart beats and following the breathing rhythm of the carers holding them close to their chest. They quiet down the moment they are brought close to carer’s body. One simple gesture can do a lot for the child, his/her relationship with parents and the development of secure attachment.

So, dear parents, hug your children! With that gentle physical contact, show your child you care and appreciate his/her need for contact and affection. Stimulate the development of secure attachment.

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