Many an article is written on ensuring we teach children all the right things at the right time. Parents are told to keep their kids active, to ensure they engage in creative play, to have them participate in sport, get them to learn a musical instrument, the list goes on.

But what parents sometimes are not told is to slow down, enjoy their children and make sure they love them. How do we express our love other than in words? We hug. We are a tactile animal and enjoy the touch of another human being right from the day we are born. A baby cries as it comes into the world and instantly transforms into a quiet happy bundle of joy when placed in its mothers’ arms.

And that early memory of feeling loved and nurtured imprints onto the baby and lasts a lifetime.

Be honest, how many hugs have you received today and how many have you handed out? Have you put your phone/laptop/tablet to one side and grabbed your child to envelope them in a bear hug? If you have, you’re on the way to keep the blues at bay.

It is not only an old wives’ tale that hugging is of great benefit. Research has confirmed it as well.

Remember the Disney movie Inside Out? If you have you may recall Joy discovering it is Sadness who can restore balance to Riley’s life. And if we connect the dots we realize why this is. Hugging has been shown to release happy endorphins. When do we hug our children? When they re feeling down, sad or crying, which means sadness is replaced with happiness. Balance is restored.

But how does it work?

According to research, when we hug for an extended period of time we increase the serotonin level in the body. Serotonin is responsible for making us feel happy.

Other health benefits of hugging are:

To boost self esteem and feelings of self worth.

Reduce anxiety and levels of stress that can often threaten to overwhelm children. 

Teach about being in the moment.

Relaxing muscles and increasing circulation. 

To boost the bodies’ oxytocin levels. Oxytocin is a hormone produced in the brain and if its production is increased leaves the individual feeling happier, more loved and less lonely.

My mother in law, who passed away about twelve months ago, was a firm believer in hugging your children at least eight times a day. According to her eight hugs would be enough to keep the blues away. And she should know, she was a mother to nine children. Yes you read correctly, nine children.

It turns out that her instincts were correct. The late Virginia Satir, psychotherapist and pioneer in family therapy believed “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”

Thus the lesson for all of us in this is we need to hug our children more often, not only when they are feeling down or are hurt. Squeezing twelve hugs, meaningful hugs that is, into the day will require conscious effort on your part as the parent, particularly if your kids are of school age.

Here are some tips on how to make sure you hand out twelve hugs a day:

1. Start the day with a great big bear hug.

2. Don’t let them go out the door with another hug.

3. Hug your child when they look tired.

4. Hug your child when they have done something good.

5. Use a hug as a reward.

6. Hug them when you pick them up from school.

7. Hug them before bedtime.

8. Hug them as often as you can.

9. Hug them when they look stressed.

10. Hug them any time.

Squeezing in twelve hugs a day seems a lot. In a twelve-hour day it is at least one hug an hour. With everything else we have to remember you’ll need to make sure you go out of your way to hand out those hugs. Soon enough though it will become part of daily life.

The best part is you, as the hug initiator, will also receive the benefits of hugging. It’s a win-win situation.

What are you waiting for? Grab your child and wrap your arms around them in the first hug of the day. Don’t forget to treat other members in your family the same way.