Can hugs make your child smarter?

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When we hug our babies, it not only helps them regulate their emotions, but is also very important for nervous system regulation and brain development.
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Those little hands, those puffy palms, a vise grip on your thumb. Holding the warm little body against it, breathing in the baby scent… it’s a soothing experience. There is a physiological change; the brain floods the body with oxytocin, the “love” or “hug” hormone; suddenly you find yourself smiling, mimicking the little one’s cooing and sighing.

It turns out, however, that it’s not just the adult who benefits from the interaction, the baby too. This touch has a domino effect on neural pathways in the brain, creating connections, modulating activity patterns, increasing synapses and function. Your hug can just make your baby smarter.

Hugs release oxytocin, a “feel-good” brain chemical that helps bond, slow heart rate, and reduce stress.

– Dr Preeti Sahota

Dr Preeti Sahota, neurology consultant at Prime Hospital, explains: “When we hug our babies, it not only helps them regulate their emotions, but is also very important for the regulation of the nervous system and brain development. Hugs release oxytocin, which is the brain’s “feel-good” chemical that helps bond, slow heart rate, and reduce stress. It also releases cortisol – which helps calm babies and children and promotes the release of endorphins in the brain’s reward pathways supporting immediate feelings of pleasure. Research has shown that children who receive warmth and affection from their parents at a very young age are more likely to have greater resilience, have better grades, and have better parent relationships. -child to adulthood.

What is oxytocin?

Oxytocin, also known as the love or hug hormone, is secreted by the posterior pituitary lobe, located at the base of the brain. In humans, this production begins from the 14th embryonic week. Dr. Preeti Sahota, neurology consultant at Prime Hospital, explains: “Oxytocin plays a very important role in many human behaviors, including recognition, trust, loving attachment and mother-child bond. In fact, it is said to promote the organization of neural circuits during early fetal brain development, which affects female and male brain development and helps in the development of appropriate social behaviors later in life.

Researchers at the Netherlands Institute of Neuroscience (NIN) studied the hormone oxytocin and its role in neurodevelopment – according to their research, published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal “Current Biology”, they found that the hormone activates a specific neuron subtype called somatostatin interneurons.

“In the developing brain, neural connections are formed with remarkable precision. Even before the senses become active, spontaneous activity prepares the brain to interact with the outside world ”, explains Christian Lohmann, group leader at NIN.

Researchers investigated the role of somatostatin interneurons, which inhibit other neurons, in turn promoting the development of local subnets. The study thus found a correlation between the production of oxytocin and the development of sensory circuits in a brain.

It’s not just hugs that release the ‘happiness hormone’, which promotes a sense of well-being and caregiver attachment, reduces anxiety and even physical health, it’s the sense of touch that takes advantage.

What can touch do for a child?

A lot, in fact. In infants, the term kangaroo care is used to describe the skin-to-skin bonding time that a parent has with a child. Louise Atkinson, a certified doula and baby massage instructor in Dou La La, United Arab Emirates, says touch releases oxytocin, a “feel good” hormone. “It covers everything with feelings of love, feelings of worth and feelings of respect,” she adds. “These are also the emotional benefits for a breastfeeding mother; it would produce more prolactin [protein responsible for lactation] for breastfeeding. And the physical benefits are baby weight gain, colic reduction, better sleep, digestion, greater resilience and muscle tone, ”she adds.

How to do kangaroo care

Kangaroo care is a method of holding a baby that involves skin-to-skin contact. The baby, who is usually naked except for a diaper, is placed upright against a parent’s bare chest. Mothers and fathers can take care of the kangaroo. It is often used with premature infants while they are still in the hospital.

All contacts – like all hugs – are different

Did you know? There are two types of touch systems: “quick contact” and “slow contact”. The Quick System is made up of nerves that quickly sense contact, like when you touch a “hot” drink or brush ice cream. The “slow-touch” is a network of nerves called c-tactile afferents which calculate the emotional sensations of a touch. According to an article published in the International Journal of Neuroscience, “CT afferents are tuned to respond to tactile stimuli with the specific characteristics of a gentle caress delivered at a typical skin temperature. This provides a peripheral mechanism for signaling pleasant skin-to-skin contact in humans, which promotes interpersonal contact and affiliate behavior.

Touch – and hugs – can be beneficial, but there are times when a well-meaning adult can cause more stress than peace. Experts warn that calling for a hug when a child is unwilling will only cause distress. “Children have the right to consent before being exposed to physical interactions with others, whether they are family members or strangers. Children have the right to say no and their parents should not allow interaction; without showing any negative emotions or reactions towards their children. Additionally, if an unpleasant reaction to children’s consent occurs from other adults, parents must step in to support their child’s right to decide. Forcing our children to do otherwise can cause emotional damage, confusion and loss of confidence, ”says Nashwa Tantawy, counseling psychologist at the Openminds Center.

The importance of bodily autonomy

Arfa Banu Khan, Clinical Psychologist, Aster Jubilee Medical Complex, Bur Dubai, explains: “Bodily autonomy is defined as the power and agency that a person has over their body and their future, free from violence and coercion. In other words, all people – including children – have the right to live free from physical acts, such as contact to which they do not consent. ”

Dubai-based German expat and mother of twins Nadia Güzel said: “When the family, including my parents, say ‘give me a hug’ I say ‘don’t ask, please “. They’ll give you a hug when they’re ready.

The US-based Exchange Family Center cites research that indicates infants in orphanages where they were rarely held had severe cognitive impairment. But when they were held for just 20 minutes a day for 10 weeks, they performed better on brain development assessments.

Hugs are great – both for cuddling and cuddling – just follow the child’s lead.

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