Is The Key To Raising Happier Kids More Cuddling?

father and daughter playing in bed in the morning

We weren’t raised with constant hugs and kisses, but our kids are, and perhaps that’s the insurance we pay to guarantee them a happier, less neurotic future in an increasingly chaotic world.

My daughter snuggles in for a cuddle with me several times a day, particularly in the morning before leaving for school (she’s in Kindergarten) or later at night while we read books together in her bed. I relish these stolen moments, although I know that at 6 years of age, she’s fast leaving these emotionally expressive days behind.

Still, I wonder if she has had more kissing and cuddling in her six years than I have had from both my parents in my entire life.

Don’t get me wrong: I know my parents love me. It’s just that they are not physically expressive with their love. Like most of their generation, it has never been natural for them to shower their kids with affection.

Since that was not my experience growing up, it’s interesting that my husband and I and the other parents I know are so casual about hugging, kissing, cuddling, and loving on their children daily.

Let me be clear: I was never a proponent of attachment parenting. I never wore my baby (she was born at 8 pounds 12 ounces, so that would not have been comfortable for either of us).

I did swaddle her for naps and nighttime sleeping until she was 9 months old (swaddling is considered a form of deep touch pressure which is highly therapeutic), because I believe that it approximates the feelings of security and closeness she felt in my womb.

And I was always free with my expressions of love.

The research shows that parents who demonstrate their affection to their children are on to something. Cuddling creates more resilient adults, because it leads to positive changes in the child’s brain, which helps them to manage stress better. It’s essential to a child’s emotional well-being because it releases oxytocin (which is actually called the cuddling hormone). Oxytocin reduces stress, improves communication, trust, and attachment and can even help with sleep.

As Nicholas D. Kristof says in the wonderful New York Times piece “Cuddle Your Kid,” in one of his studies, McGill University neurologist Michael Meaney noted that some mother rats spent lots of time licking and grooming their babies, while others weren’t as cuddly with their kids. The study found that the rats who had been “cuddled” were smarter, better at mazes, more social and curious, and lived longer than the other rats.

In his book, How Children Succeed, author Paul Tough discusses how parents need to prepare their children for adulthood. He states that “the qualities that matter most have more to do with character: skills like perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, and self-control are rooted in brain chemistry and molded, by the environment in which kids grow up.”

In fact, the environments our kids are growing up in are worlds apart from the environments of our childhood—a time when the Internet was in its infancy, and Facebook (and social sharing) didn’t exist. Surely, the advent of the Internet and social media has made our boundaries looser and more casual—a mother is more likely to lie in bed with her child watching TV, than formally sitting in a den with the rest of the family, like we remember doing.

Think about it:  Can you remember how many times you hung out in your parent’s bedroom?

I can count the amount of times I did on one hand, and it was never during the day or the weekend. I only stayed in the bedroom with my mom and dad a few times, when I was feeling mentally low and needed their physical presence and support to help me get through it.

In contrast, my daughter and the kids of the parents I know call our hours spent hanging out on our king-sized bed as relaxing “family time,” particularly on the weekends when cocooning together seems natural.

My daughter seems far more confident than I can remember being at her age, and I wonder if it’s because she basks in our love regularly. Through cuddling with us and watching TV, or holding hands as we read together, does she benefit from having our adoration for her revealed in these ways?

Recently, an app was launched for adults called Cuddlr. It is like the dating apps Tinder or Grindr, but is focused only on helping people find others to cuddle. “We’re not getting the right type of contact often enough; we don’t give and get enough hugs,” says founder, Charlie Williams. Mainly, Williams says he created the app because, “we don’t get enough touch in our daily lives.”

Luckily, we are giving our kids a head start on loving touch, and maybe that’s the key to raising a happier and more successful next generation.

I’ll keep you posted, but first I’m going to give my daughter a hug.

Estelle Erasmus is an author and former magazine editor. She has been published in Brain, Child,Purple Clover, Marie Claire, xoJane, The Washington Post On Parenting, The Huffington Post among other publications. She can be found on twitter at @EstelleSErasmus and blogs at her award-winning blog Musings on Motherhood & Midlife. She was just named a BlogHer Voice of the Year for 2015.

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