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Hugging has the power to transform the way that we think, feel, and live. There is a reason that we want to hug our children often. While often perceived as a simple gesture of affection, hugging is a profound tool for emotional and physical health, particularly in strengthening family bonds. Today, we explore why embracing the “Disney Hug” rule—never being the first to let go—is so impactful.

The Magic of the “Disney Hug” Rule

A few years ago, when our daughter was about 5 years old, she hugged a Disney character (in the Star Wars area) and they hugged for at least four minutes. We thought it was the funniest and most adorable thing. They just kept hugging… little did we know (until seven years later!) that Disney has a “hug” suggestion: at Disney parks, characters are trained to never be the first to end a hug, allowing children to fully immerse in the hug & joy of the moment.
This practice is not just enchanting but is deeply rooted in understanding emotional connections. It’s a beautiful rule that can easily be adopted into our daily interactions with our family. After all, hugs are such a powerful way to foster a sense of security and affection.

Hugging Reduces Stress & Increases Self Esteem

Hugging is more than just a warm embrace. It is a powerful component of our emotional toolkit, offering benefits that are both far-reaching and deeply personal:

  • Reduce Stress: Hugging reduces cortisol levels, thus diminishing anxiety and stress. A landmark 2020 study highlighted these effects, showcasing the broad benefits of physical affection.
  • Higher Emotional Intelligence: A 2016 study in the “Journal of Child and Family Studies” discovered that children who receive more physical affection from their parents develop greater emotional intelligence.
  • Calming Effects: Hugging has been shown to improve memory performance in stressful situations due to the calming effects of oxytocin (2019 study)
  • Higher Self-Esteem: Frequent hugs have been linked to higher self-esteem in children and adults.
  • Improved Long-Term Relationship: A study by the University of North Carolina found that partners who engage in frequent hugging show improved relationship satisfaction, likely due to increased oxytocin levels, which foster trust and bonding.
  • Desire to Help Others: Research published in 2018 in “PLOS One” indicated that hugs might increase prosocial behaviors (those intended to help others) in children, such as sharing and helping others, which boosts self-esteem and reduces social anxiety.

Hugging Builds a Stronger Immune System

  • Immune System Support: A 2015 study from Carnegie Mellon University found that hugs act as a form of social support, reducing the risk of stress-associated infections and leading to a stronger immune system.
  • Heart Health: Hugging not only improves mental well-being, but can also have physical health benefits such as lowered blood pressure and improved heart health.
  • Hugs as Preventive Medicine: A 2016 study suggests that regular physical affection, like hugging, could lower the likelihood of catching common colds or flu, as physical warmth improves the body’s ability to combat infections.
  • Neuroendocrine Regulation: A 2017 study pointed out that regular hugs could balance the body’s natural control systems for responding to stress, thereby improving overall health and potentially reducing the frequency of illness related to stress.

Hugging Improves Memory (and Grades!)

  • Emotional and Cognitive Benefits: Frequent hugs have been linked to improved academic performance in children, as noted in a 2018 study by the Family Relations Institute.
  • Impact on Learning: A 2020 study observed that children who were hugged before school had better concentration and memory recall during lessons, which in turn impacted their academic performance positively. (Try to make this a before-school rule.)

Hugging is Linked to a Longer Life

  • Longer Life Expectancy: Regular physical contact, including hugging, has also been linked to longer life expectancy due to cumulative positive effects on the heart and endocrine systems (2018 review).
  • Pain Management: A 2019 study reported that children experience less pain after receiving hugs after minor surgical procedures, indicating the natural analgesic effects of physical comfort.
  • Heartbeat Harmony and Memory Boosts: A 2017 study found that a 20-second hug can synchronize heartbeats, enhancing emotional and physiological connections.
  • Significant Impact on Longevity: A longitudinal study conducted in 2019 among elderly adults indicated that those who received more frequent hugs and other forms of social support lived longer than those who were isolated, suggesting that the social and emotional support provided by hugging has a significant impact on longevity.
  • Reduced Chronic Depression: Further evidence from mental health research shows that individuals who receive regular hugs are less likely to experience chronic depression, contributing to overall longevity and life quality.

Don’t Be the First to End the Hug

It’s clear that a hug is packed full of benefits. it’s so much more than a quick squeeze. It’s a real booster for our health and happiness. So, let’s make it a point to hug our loved ones tighter and longer. Believe it or not, every hug is doing them—and us—a world of good. Make your hugs count!

Cuddling our children makes them more successful adults...

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A woman holding a young child.

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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