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Last week, I kicked off a series about morning rituals to add meaning and connection to the start of the day. We started with a morning playlist. Today it’s the importance of a morning hug.
A WHOLE POST About a HUG?
You might be thinking, “This blog post could be six words long: ‘Hug your kid in the morning.'”
I get it. It’s true that giving and getting hugs doesn’t require a lot of explanation.
But this mini-treatise on hugs stems from a recent experience with one of my sons.
A few weeks ago, I woke up tired and feeling some lingering frustration about one of my child’s shenanigans the day before.
When I went to give this kid his morning hug, something compelled me to hold on longer than usual.
I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.
My son hugged me. And hugged me some more. And kept right. on. hugging. That particular embrace easily lasted ten times longer than our normal ones.
By the time he finally pulled away, tears had sprung to my eyes.
In deciding to hug my son until he’d gotten his fill, I discovered just how much he needed it.
And also how much I needed that hug to hit reset and start the day in a spirit of renewed love.
The Benefits of Hugs
Obviously hugs, so long as they’re wanted, feel good. But numerous research studies show the benefits of hugging go way beyond warm fuzzies.
- Hugs help reduce fears.
- Hugs make us happy (through the release of oxytocin, one of the feel-good hormones).
- Hugs boost the immune system.
- Hugs encourage healthy brain development.
- Hugs support kids’ physical development (through the release of oxytocin, which in turn stimulates certain growth hormones).
- Hugs lower stress.
- Hugs encourage mindfulness and being present in the moment.
- Hugs promote bonding.
So now you’re totally on board with prioritizing a big hug to start the day with your child, right?
Good! Then let’s turn to the question of quality. All hugs are not created equal.
The Right Way to Give a Morning Hug
Thinking back to that experience with my son a few weeks ago, I wasn’t surprised to learn that studies show longer hugs are better than brief ones.
But how long should a hug be, exactly? I’d always heard at least 6 seconds (here is one such example).
As I researched this post, however, the more general consensus seemed to be that a good hug should last at least TWENTY seconds.
Twenty seconds?!? We want to bond with our kids, but doesn’t twenty seconds seem like a long time to hold their antsy little bodies first thing in the morning?
Plus, I don’t even know how you’d make sure you achieved that hug length. Set a timer? Count “one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi” in your head?
Timing a hug feels antithetical to that whole part about being present in the moment.
Fortunately, it might not be necessary. When writer Alison Escalante tried to trace the scientific roots of the 20-second recommendation, she couldn’t.
Instead, she concluded, “In the end, the exact timing of a hug may not matter so much as whether we feel the effects of oxytoxin. A hug should continue until each person feels the relaxation effect.”
(Full disclosure: as I researched this post, I did come upon another article that pointed to the study supporting a hug length of 20 seconds. Nonetheless, I’m sticking to my instincts about the impracticality of that advice when it comes to morning hugs!).
Escalante has devised a handy acronym that includes the recommendation about feeling the relaxation effect, along with two other pieces of advice, to summarize the perfect hug:
“H. Hold on tight” – we need to squeeze hard enough for the nervous system to register the hug as deep pressure, which lowers stress and creates a calming effect
“U. Until you feel relaxed, and” – we need to hug long enough to get the oxytocin flowing
“G. Grow your bond.” – our bond with one another is strengthened through the oxytocin release
There are other important things to keep in mind, too. Alberto Garcia stresses the importance of obtaining consent — obviously a hug doesn’t do any good if it’s unwanted! — and making eye contact before hugging. He also goes with the recommendation of 6 seconds minimum.
Putting it All Together – How to Give a Fabulous Morning Hug
To sum it all up, here’s what a morning hug ritual should look like:
- Greet your child. Make eye contact.
- Ask, “Can I have a good-morning hug?”
- If your child agrees, open your arms wide in invitation. Depending on the age of your kids, you may want to pick up your child, kneel, sit down in a chair, or pull the child into your lap. You’re looking for that ideal hugging position that lends itself to both parties feeling comfy and cozy and ready to stay awhile.
- HUG! Savor the moment. Close your eyes and breathe in the scent of your child. Notice the gentle pressure of their body pressed against yours. Allow the immense love you feel for this little person to flow through your body.
- Hold your child until you feel them start pulling away. Aim for at least 6 seconds.
- End in a way that feels natural to you. I usually add an “I love you” and a peck on the cheek.
And then, last but not least, keep those hugs coming throughout the day! Make hugging a ritual that you weave into moments throughout the day.
I came across this quote several times while researching this post:
“We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”Virginia Satir
Go on. Whether it’s morning or midnight, put down your phone or close up your laptop. Then go give some hugs.