The New Rule In My House Is 10 Hugs A Day — Every Day
By Paula Schuck
PHOTO © jenni.heller/Twenty20
Oct 29, 2020
Either you're a hugger, or you're not — and I am a hugger. Right now, in my family, we are hugging it out every day, all day long. Hugs don’t cost anything but a moment of your time and the return on investment is dramatic.
So, why are we hugging it out?
Months ago, when the pandemic began, I noticed a visible toll on my kids' mental health. They were angry, irritable and deflated. They missed their friends and they missed school.
"Both of my teens crave big crushing bear hugs sometimes."
Teens, by their nature, need their squad around them and are super social creatures. If you watch any group of teens for an hour you will notice they are physical. They bump into each other; they jokingly tap and touch and even wrestle playfully. That stopped suddenly in March and what’s worse, for a time we were even worried about hugging within our own family.
We were all trying to find our balance or even just hold our ground.
But I have sensory seeking kids. Both of my girls have always craved and needed a lot of physical affection and hugs. So, taking a step back from that is hard for them. A world without hugs is literally a nightmare for at least one of them. Both of my teens crave big crushing bear hugs sometimes. I am pretty sure that’s why martial arts has always been such a great fit for them as a sport.
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When my youngest was small she would race through the house and tumble into us, almost on purpose so she could get a big bear hug. She needed that connection and it was grounding. Kids with sensory processing disorder, anxiety disorder and FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder) just seem to need more of that deep muscle feedback.
While what that looks like has shifted a bit as they have grown, it is still apparent to me when my kids need hugs. So, recently, I just started saying: OK, the goal is 10 hugs a day, every single day. And we count. If at the end of the day we are not at 10, we check in and add in three or four more big hugs before we go to sleep.
An Experiment In Hugging
For a little bit, this was actually almost an experiment for me. Let’s see if this makes an impact at all, I thought. We were already plugging in virtual therapy and support for COVID-19 anxiety and depression, but it’s common for my teens to do an hour a week of virtual therapy and then withdraw.
"In the past couple of months, I have realized there are all kinds of hugs."
In the spring, we were all struggling. And teens, when they struggle, pull back or retreat behind closed doors in their bedroom cave. Hugging gives me a reason to check in, to connect and determine quickly if they need something they are not getting.
Many people feel better after hugs. That’s common sense and also science.
One study found that hugs can boost oxytocin levels, decreasing stress hormones, and that they can increase serotonin levels and change your mood. You build trust, affection and relationships with hugs. In fact, hugs can even positively impact your immune system, which is something we can all use right now. Hugs can lower blood pressure, decrease loneliness and alleviate fear. Better than an apple a day!
And The Results?
Well, my moody teens at the very least know I love them because I am not just saying it a dozen different ways all day, but showing it when I hug them and take a second to check in.
"And here I was thinking my teens would soon see through me and shrug this hugging thing off."
Hugs force them to check in with me so we can all say, "I see you and it looks like you need this." I feel like I might be coping better as a parent and I’ve had a couple of consistent healthy blood pressure readings. (For reference here, I’ve been taking medication for and battling high blood pressure since 2015.)
In the past couple of months, I have realized there are all kinds of hugs. Hugs that communicate 100 different sentiments and emotions. Good-morning hugs. Goodbye hugs (when I am going for a quick trip to the gym by myself, or when my husband is heading to work). LONG early-morning "it takes me forever to wake up, so let’s drag this out" hugs (my youngest teen has perfected these). Reminder hugs. Get-started-on-remote-schoolwork hugs. Thank-you hugs. "I am about to cry because this all sucks" hugs. Apologetic "I am sorry I yelled" hugs. I-love-you hugs, and I-still-love-you hugs.
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All of these hugs when freely given and accepted are tension breakers. That is a fact and I have seen it work. They are also therapeutic. Not to be used in place of therapy, but alongside it.
Once in a while I think, "Wow, how on Earth am I going to get 10 hugs in today?" Occasionally I think, "This child is not at all pleasant today, so why am I doing this again?" And yet, we rarely miss our hug quota. The other day I asked my youngest, "Hey, how many hugs have we done today? Are we at 10 yet?" She volleyed back: “Wait — does that mean I am limited to 10 hugs a day? What if I want more?"
While I was writing this, I checked in with my oldest daughter who, while studying for midterms, was having an emotional day. “FIVE. We have had five so far today,” she said. “I love that you are actually keeping score,” I said.
And here I was thinking my teens would soon see through me and shrug this hugging thing off. But the kids are happier and lighter since I started this routine. Hugs give us time to pause, redirect and refocus. So, hug breaks are a thing in my home, and I am keeping them.
We might not be able to hug friends still, but we are making our hugs count here at home.
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