Many studies have been done that show the importance of affection on children and their proper development into adulthood. Harry Harlow, an American psychologist, conducted studies on infant rhesus monkeys. In his research, he took the monkeys from their mothers and placed them in isolation or with either a wire and straw replacement with milk or a soft foam covered in terry cloth. The infant monkeys preferred the soft, comforting option, even when no food was available. Those in isolation showed disturbed behavior and reclusive tendencies.
No matter the species nor situation, we all crave the comfort of a loving embrace. “Hugs can do great amounts of good – especially for children,” is something Princess Diana, Princess of Wales, often said, believed, and lived throughout her life. She brought care and love to children living in third world countries with diseases like HIV when most people were afraid to be near them. The impact of her affection for those children lives on today.
Charles Nelson of Harvard Medical School conducted a study of children in a Romanian orphanage. Because the children were lacking in attention, they would reach for any adult who came into the orphanage. Nelson says that affection toward children is important to their brain and physical development, as well as their mental health.
Unfortunately, children who are deprived of affection sometimes develop the inability to determine proper, healthy contact and relationships with adults. They may not be able to properly process rejection and may think that inappropriate affection is acceptable. Learning boundaries is difficult in these situations.
Even for children who do receive plenty of love and attention, it is important not to push them to give hugs to friends or relatives with whom they are not familiar. While we want to teach children how to show compassion and care for others, insisting that they express that through physical contact may cause boundary issues. Forcing a child to show affection to someone just because they have not seen them in a while or they brought them a birthday or holiday gift may cause them to think they owe someone something when they are nice to them, according to Girl Scouts’ developmental psychologist Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald. There are many ways to show appreciation or thanks without physical contact.
Hugging children and showing affection to those you love helps develop a sense of security, increases self-esteem, and improves social interaction. So, on Global Hug Your Kids Day and every day, give plenty of hugs. Not only will you benefit from the affection, but your children will be developing in positive ways, mentally and physical, for their adulthood.
Red River Youth Academy is located at 3400 Deskin Dr. in Norman, Okla., and serves children and adolescents experiencing emotional/behavioral disorders that often involve severe anger, aggression, and defiance. At Red River, we believe in hope, second chances, and new beginnings. We are dedicated to providing the most effective care for our residents through programs designed to target specific problems faced by youth and to teach them new life skills to enable them to succeed in society. For more information, please call (405) 701-8530 or visit http://www.redriverya.com/.