Saturday, February 9, 2013

Healing with Hugs

 "Monkey hugs" are frequently assigned to ILC students and their parents as well as other "exercises" which involve touch.  Healthy touch plays a significant role in calming a child's nervous system.  If a child or his parents are uncomfortable with hugging, it is very important to set a goal of developing this relationship skill.  The following is an excerpt from a lecture by Dr. Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine:

A normal steady diet of healthy touch is critical for healthy development.  We know this from extreme examples in nature, like orphans institutionalized in Romania who gained half their expected weight and height because they were touch deprived.  Then there are examples from cross-cultural literature, like studies we've done in Paris and Miami, which compared the amount of touch kids normally get on playgrounds and in schools.  We found that kids in Paris were getting significantly more physical affection than kids in the U.S., and that the French kids in turn were significantly less aggressive than the kids in the U.S.  Research with monkeys also shows a relationship between aggression and touch deprivation.
We've done more than one hundred studies over the years with kids with different medical and psychiatric conditions.  Results show that not only can we shift behaviors in a positive directions through healthy touch, but that the underlying biochemistry improves as well.  This applies to kids who have asthma, autism, cancer, diabetes, dermatitis, autoimmune conditions, immune conditions, pain syndromes, depression, and attention disorders - all can benefit.

Our studies show that most children are just not getting an adequate amount of touch during the day.  They need hugs and carrying around and kisses and pats on the back.  It would be very healthy if a child got a normal dose of touch, plus a massage a day.
A massage can be a very relaxing bedtime ritual.  The most beneficial and relaxing type of massage uses deep pressure.  You can try a foot or hand massage with lotion or coconut oil; or a back rub.  Get your child to give you feedback about the pressure.  If s/he is over-sensitive to touch or feels ticklish when touched, try very firm pressure and try to find an area that is not ticklish.  (Tickling is not calming.)

Another way to get deep pressure touch is by hugging.  Dr Field says this about hugs:
When you get a loving and firm hug, it stimulates pressure receptors under the skin, which in turn send a message to the vagus nerve in your brain.  The vagus nerve takes this cue to slow down your heart rate and your blood pressure, putting you in a relaxed state.  The hug even curbs stress hormones such as cortisol, facilitates food absorption and the digestion process, and stimulates the release of serotonin which counteracts pain.

(italicized quotes are from The Connected Child by Purvis, Cross, and Sunshine 2007)

So now you see how powerful a silly "Monkey Hug" can be.  Your child's nervous system will benefit and yours will too!  

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