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Hugging fortifies a child’s self-esteem and overall development

A strong and healthy self esteem might be one of the most important things a child should develop as it will help him to better handle the numerous challenges of life. Hence, helping a child feel loved and valuable should be encouraged as much as good nutrition and health care are. But, ¿how might we achieve that goal? As a starting point, parents can try practicing something so simple as hugging their babies. Studies show how important is the act of hugging for building a child's healthy self esteem, disposition, and overall development. Unfortunately, nowadays various circumstances prevent both parents from interacting with their little ones.

Photo of Ursula
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The Child Development Institute posted an article about helping children to develop a positive self-image. Among other things, the author mentions that self-esteem is how we feel about ourselves, and our behavior clearly reflects those feelings. For example, a child or teen with high self-esteem will be able to:
  • act independently
  • assume responsibility
  • take pride in his accomplishments
  • tolerate frustration
  • attempt new tasks and challenges
  • handle positive and negative emotions
  • offer assistance to others
On the other hand, a child with low self-esteem will:
  • avoid trying new things
  • feel unloved and unwanted
  • blame others for his own shortcomings
  • feel, or pretend to feel, emotionally indifferent
  • be unable to tolerate a normal level of frustration
  • put down his own talents and abilities
  • be easily influenced
As children will comprise the next adult population, society as a whole should care about how each and every child develops their self-image through their early years. But, where to start? Studies show that bonding by physical contact is very helpful for the baby's development. Hence, parents may start by hugging their babies and making them feel loved and appreciated. Letitia Ho, Ph.D., a developmental pediatrician from the Philipines says hugging is a gesture of affirmation, appreciation, and acknowledgment. A child who is hugged often acquires a positive self-concept, whereas a child who is hug-starved or doesn’t receive any other form of affirmation at home will start asking ‘Am I loved here?’

Hugging and praising our children can be assumed by most of us as a given. However, there could be some factors that interfere with such events. For example:
  • Lack of work-life balance. Both parents are trapped by their hectic schedules and are left with little to no time to bond with their children. In the case of low income families, both parents may have more than one job.
  • Coming from a touch-deprived culture. As a parent, how can I be naturally affectionate and hug my child if I was deprived of such experience during my chidlhood?
  • Emotional abuse. What if I'm a single mom that was abandoned by the baby's father because of the pregnancy?
  • Socioeconomic situation. A newborn instead of bringing joy will become a burden for a family that can barely survive every day life due to poverty.
  • Health issues. What if I expected to love my baby, but she was born sick and I'm not sure if I want to keep her?
  • Lack of parenting skills.
Sadly, those factors seem to prove that under certain circumstances giving a hug, which is apparently an effortless act of love and care, might be the most difficult thing to do.

Related article:
Hands on Research: The Science of Touch

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Photo of Anne-Laure

Great inspiration Ursula. You might want to check Ashwin's post on the value of touch, which offers a perspective on a way to address the issue for working mothers: https://openideo.com/challenge/zero-to-five/research/the-value-of-touch

Photo of Ursula

Hi Anne-Laure. Thanks, I just checked Ashwin's post and found it very interesting. It's good to know that groups of women in India are organizing themselves to provide their babies with the attention and care they need on their early days of life. Such activity reminded me of the women from the Andes in Peru that carry their babies on their backs while performing their daily farming duties (http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-UVnTb6gCBKg/Tp3UxAsc6wI/AAAAAAAAACM/VlFu2GvXO3M/s1600/MUJER._Reginamuestrapapas.jpg). They do this until the babies are ready to walk by themselves. I think that this practice could also be observed in some parts of Asia and Africa.
Two things I liked when I read the NY Times article where the findings on how long the effects of touch could last on babies' growth and mental development, and the notes on the ongoing research to figure out how to adequately touch premature babies. I used to believe that any type of touch would be helpful and beneficial for premature babies and it was surprising to read that touching them in the wrong way could actually make them ill.
The one thing I didn't liked that much was that you can feel some sort of absence of the paternal figure, as almost all the research examples only mention the mom-baby interaction. A baby will likely stay physically closer to its mom because of breastfeeding, but I think it would be nice to present the whole picture with the dad being also an active and important part in the process of bonding with the baby.

Photo of Anne-Laure

Ursula, glad you liked Ashwin's research. I agree that this is very similar to carrying practices in different parts of the world:. I started doing some research on it as I think taking a cross-cultural perspective can be inspiring.
Regarding your comment on the absence of the paternal figure, while I think this is due to the specific aspect of the research on premature babies, and the fact that when babies are tiny, even though the role of fathers is important, there is - like it or not - a special physical link between mothers and babies (in particular when breastfeeding).
This does not / should not take it out the role of the father - including the physical, embodied relationship - but I think it is a different one. However, your comment highlights the importance of thinking of the role of the father, and supporting it, particularly in some cultures where there is a strong social demarcation of gender roles. It is indeed important to get the full picture, and because both parents play as you said a key role in the development of the child. This reminds me of an inspiration in another challenge: https://openideo.com/challenge/womens-safety/research/learning-from-the-jungle-mamas
In the video, they showed how they involved the fathers.

Photo of Ursula

Jungle Mamas is a great project! Not only they involve the fathers into the learning process, but they also respect and include the local community habits regarding childbirth. That's really good as it helps to build trust and cooperation within the population. Thanks for sending the link.

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