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Did you know that cuddling our children now will make them more successful as adults?   It’s true!  Science proves that kids need to be hugged for 15 seconds or more and today we are diving into just how important it really is for their development and for their futures.

When I was in college, I took several classes in childhood development.  I’ve always been interested in learning and understanding how a child’s brain develops.   It was in that class that I first learned that hugging & cuddling a child makes them smarter & better behaved.  Actually, it raises their IQ.

A lady and a boy hugging.

Yes, cuddling our children makes them smarter & better behaved.  I don’t often use the word “makes” because that may not be the case, but for this, it’s very much the case.   In fact… the way a baby develops has a lot to do with the amount of cuddling, hugging, and kissing that is given when they are young.  It’s the reason that Kangeroo care, skin-to-skin contact, is so important for an infant.

Cuddling babies can change their DNA

According to a publication in Development and Psychopathology, a study of 94 healthy children was conducted by scientists from the University of British Columbia and BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute.  They found that infants who lacked human content had a molecular profile in their cells that proved that there was a lack of proper development.  These results maintained even when they were looked at several years later.

I’ve known that the touch, and even eye contact, of a parent, is huge for a child.  I remember learning that eye contact can give a child the same feeling of relief that comes with pain medication, such as acetaminophen.

The Study that Proves DNA changes

“94 healthy children in British Columbia. Researchers from UBC and BC Children’s Hospital asked parents of 5-week-old babies to keep a diary of their infants’ behavior (such as sleeping, fussing, crying or feeding) as well as the duration of caregiving that involved bodily contact. When the children were about 4 1/2 years old, their DNA was sampled by swabbing the inside of their cheeks.” – Development and Psychopathology

Cuddling our children makes them smarter & better behaved

“The amount of physical contact between infants and their caregivers can affect children at the molecular level. The study of DNA methylation patterns showed that children who had been more distressed as infants and had received less physical contact had a molecular profile that was underdeveloped for their age.

This is the first study to show in humans that the simple act of touching, early in life, has deeply-rooted and potentially lifelong consequences on genetic expression.” –

A woman holding a young child.

Brain Scans of Two Children Prove a Mother’s Love Impacts Child’s Brain Size.

“A shocking comparison of brain scans from two three-year-old children reveals new evidence of the remarkable impact a mother‘s love has on a child’s brain development.

The chilling images reveal that the left brain, which belongs to a normal 3-year-old, is significantly larger and contains fewer spots and dark “fuzzy” areas than the right brain, which belongs to that of a 3-year-old who has suffered extreme neglect.

Neurologists say that the latest images provide more evidence that the way children are treated in their early years is important not only for the child’s emotional development but also in determining the size of their brains.

Experts say that the sizeable difference in the two brains is primarily caused by the difference in the way each child was treated by their mothers.”  –

The team of researchers reported that the child with the smaller brain lacked a mother’s care.

Cuddling a child makes them more empathetic

The same team that found that brain size changed with a mother’s care, or lack of care, also found that children being held, cared for, hugged, and loved are more likely to be more intelligent and will develop the ability to be empathetic with others.

The child not cared for is more likely to become addicted to drugs, involved in violent crimes, and to be unemployed and dependent on government assistance. (

A women carrying a young boy.

Children brought up with affection have a greater capacity to learn.

“… children brought up by mothers who provide love and affection early in life are smarter and have a greater capacity to learn.  Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that children whose mothers nurtured them early in life have a larger hippocampus, a key brain structure that is essential to learning, memory, and response to stress, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition.”

Hugging keeps you from getting sick

I love this one.  When I was little, I never minded being sick, because it meant snuggling with my mom on the couch, under her navy blue & white knitted blanket, usually with a cup of mint chocolate chip ice cream in my hand.  While I’ve always known that we FEEL better when we are being held and cared for, now we are learning that those things actually help prevent us from getting sick in the first place.

A study at Carnegie Mellon University found that when people are hugged more often, and feeling supported socially, they are less likely to get a cold.  If they do get a cold, they have less severe symptoms than those not hugged as often.

Hugging makes you less stressed

Yes, hugging even makes you less stressed and is better for your mental health.  According to, “the hugging and oxytocin release that comes with it can then have trickle-down effects throughout the body, causing a decrease in heart rate and a drop in the stress hormones cortisol and norepinephrine.”

Studies Prove cuddling our children makes them more successful as adults

Studies prove that hugging makes us (kids & parents) happier! 

Do you want your child to have a life of happiness?  HUG THEM!  🙂    Research shows that not only will they be happier, but as you’ve seen above, they will have higher self-esteem, perform better academically, have less stress, and they will be more successful.   This form of parent-child communication gives your children the tools to be happy, successful children and adults.

Why are they happier?  Scientists are linking it to the release of Oxytocin, a hormone that makes us feel happy.   Oxytocin is a chemical in the brain that is released when a person feels loved (when they are hugged) or connected.

The New York Times also talks about the amazing power of hugs.   They talk about the amount of research supporting the connection between physical contact and success.

According to the Gottman Institute, several studies back up these claims that hugging = happiness. 

“In 2010, researchers at Duke University Medical School found that babies with very affectionate and attentive mothers grow up to be happier, more resilient, and less anxious adults. The study involved about 500 people who were followed from when they were infants until they were in their 30s.

A 2013 study from UCLA found that unconditional love and affection from a parent can make children emotionally happier and less anxious. This happens because their brain actually changes as a result of affection.

Then in 2015, a study out of the University of Notre Dame showed that children who receive affection from their parents were happier as adults. More than 600 adults were surveyed about how they were raised, including how much physical affection they had. The adults who reported receiving more affection in childhood displayed less depression and anxiety and were more compassionate overall. ”

What if your child doesn’t like hugging?   Here are hugging alternatives:

While kids probably don’t want to be hugged all day long, it’s a great thing and my kids have always welcomed hugs (although I am a very ‘huggy person’, so they are probably just used to it!) 😉
If your kids aren’t as open to it, just remember… it’s more about the connection than about the actual HUG.

You can find alternatives to hugging, such as:

  • Scratching their backs
  • Rubbing their backs
  • Massage
  • Holding hands
  • Snuggling on the couch
  •  Play the tickle-monster game
  • Hold, touch and rock your child while you tell them a story
  • Tousle their hair
  • Give an extra squeeze when they are leaving for school and when they come home.
  • Lie down with them to cuddle before bed (and even when they come to you in the middle of the night because of a nightmare)
  • Rub their cheeks (I often just hold my kid’s little faces, with one hand on their cheek, while I’m talking to them)
  • Put your hand on their shoulder
  • Put one arm around them
  • Let them sit on your lap or cuddle close to read a book

A young girl hugging her mom around the waist.

My favorite “hugging” advice

I forget where or when I heard this, but the best advice that I remember is to let your kids be the first ones to let go when hugging.   Let them hug you as long as they want.  You’ll be surprised at how much longer they will hug you.  When you would normally let go, you’ll see that your kids hold on just a little bit longer.   It’s a great feeling to know that your hug means that much to them.

Do you want to have a deeper connection with your kids?  Spend one-on-one time with them. 

You are welcome to download the calendar below (free)

Click here to download A close up of a calendar on a white background.

Hi there!

I’m Becky, a former elementary school teacher turned certified child development therapist and blogger. I work at home with my husband and together we are raising (and partially homeschooling) our four children in the Carolinas. I love diet coke, ice cream, and spending time with my family.

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  1. Hi Becky! This post was so insightful. I’m fairly good at loving physical contact with my kids…but this has given me SO much to think about and improve on! Also, I love your suggestions for alternative touching. I’m going to try a few of these on my acts-so-tough 10-year-old son. I know he loves backrubs. 🙂

  2. So yes, these things are basic, but they can also easily fall by the wayside. Pearson herself admits that she was often so busy with work she barely had time for a proper conversation with her three boys. Since writing about the cohort studies she now always sets aside 15 minutes every night to talk to them about their days. And then she makes them go to bed.

  3. Fascinating read! As a parent, it’s reassuring to know that the time and effort I put into cuddling and showing affection to my children can have such a positive impact on their success as adults. I’ll definitely be enforcing cuddle time in our household! 😊

  4. Love this! As a parent myself, it’s great to see the benefits of cuddling our children being backed by science. It’s amazing to think that simple acts of affection can have such a profound impact on their future success. Definitely sharing this with fellow parents!