I read an article in the New York Times with the curious title, “A Poverty Solution That Starts With a Hug.” I was intrigued and delved into the story.
The piece talks about a study that the American Academy of Pediatrics did on the harmful effects of toxic stress on young children. As a child, I was well aware of toxic stress. I experienced poverty, domestic violence, and myriad situations that children shouldn’t be exposed to. But I managed to escape mostly unscathed and this article attributes it to my mother’s care and concern:
Perhaps the most widespread peril children face isn’t guns, swimming pools or speeding cars. Rather, scientists are suggesting that it may be “toxic stress” early in life, or even before birth…Toxic stress might arise from parental abuse of alcohol or drugs. It could occur in a home where children are threatened and beaten. It might derive from chronic neglect — a child cries without being cuddled. Affection seems to defuse toxic stress — keep those hugs and lullabies coming! [Kristoff, Nicholas (01/07/2012) "A Poverty Solution That Starts with a Hug." New York Times. Retrieved 01/12/12 http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/08/opinion/sunday/kristof-a-poverty-solution-that-starts-with-a-hug.html]
While it may seem outrageous that poverty and other social problems can be solved with hugs and lullabies, I’m inclined to agree that showing affection to your kids does have a positive impact.
Regardless of what was going on in my life, my mother could always comfort me with a hug. Even if the world was falling apart around us, I found solace in her embrace. Her hugs made me feel safe. My mother is only 5’2″, but I was confident that she would always protect me from harm.
But it wasn’t just the hugs that made a difference in my life. It was her encouraging words and confidence in my abilities that motivated me to rise above the squalor that surrounded me. Sometimes a child needs to hear “I believe in you.” My mother always let me know that she believed in me and therefore, my trust in her grew stronger.
Each day, I try to do the same things with my kids. I’m constantly hugging them, displaying affection, and giving them words of encouragement.
My middle son thrives most on the physical affection. He loves it when I wrap him in arms and shower him with kisses. Sometimes he nearly knocks me down when he comes running and jumps into my arms. My oldest daughter is going through her tween phase and doesn’t think it’s cool for me to hug her in public, but I’ve noticed the she always hugs back when I embrace her. The youngest child also enjoys affection and loves to cuddle on my lap. To be honest, I love it as much as he does.
I think that it’s especially important for fathers to hug their children and show affection. Many of my friends have told me about how they grew up with distant, cold fathers. Although they never questioned their father’s love for them, they yearned for a little tenderness. Sometimes I think my father’s not being there may have been easier to cope with than having a father who never expressed his love.
I try to always show my children that I love them through my words and my actions. Thankfully, they have never had to deal with any of the toxic stress that I did. But if they ever encounter a difficult situation, I want them to know that my love is strong enough to help them overcome anything that they may face.