How Many Hugs a Day Does a Child Need?

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As parents, we know that our babies like to be held, young kids enjoy being cuddled, and even older kids need regular hugs from their parents or caregivers. But what many don’t realize is there are concrete and scientific benefits from offering kids hugs.

Hugs release oxytocin (often referred to as the “love hormone), and there’s even evidence suggesting that hugs can decrease blood pressure, reduce illness severity, and help people recover from interpersonal conflict. Ahead, we’ll take a closer look at the research on kids and hugging, connect with therapists who offer wisdom on the benefit, and share what to do if your child doesn’t like to be hugged.

Why Are Hugs Important for Kids (and Parents)?

Author and family therapist Virginia Satir once wrote, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need  12 hugs a day for growth.” Studies have found that parental warmth offers important benefits to kids, and has been associated with academic success and better self-regulation skills. Receiving warmth from a parent also helps children become more resilient throughout life, according to a 2020 study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry.

One of the best ways to express warmth as a parent is through hugs. “Hugs are a symbol of love and affection and are an easy way to show positive emotion,” says Diane Franz, PhD, director of psychology at Children’s Hospital New Orleans. “Hugs convey a level of familiarity between the people involved, and typically reflect a positive relationship.”

Hugs can take many different forms, such as a greeting, a goodbye, or as a way to share a positive moment with your child. There are no rules for when and how to hug: go with your instincts and spread the love.

When It Comes to Hugs, the Limit Does Not Exist

The truth is, there is no set amount of hugs a child needs to thrive. “There is no magic number, and children vary in the amount of physical affection they want and need,” says Dr. Franz. She adds that as a general rule, younger children generally seek more hugs than older kids. "But it can range with each child and depends on their comfort level with physical affection."

Not only do younger children usually seek more hugs than older kids, but it’s clear that hugs and touch can positively impact children in these lower age groups. For example, practicing skin-to-skin with infants has numerous benefits, including temperature regulation, improved weight gain, less crying, fewer breathing issues, and strong immune responses.

A 2019 review published in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience found that social touch in early childhood has powerful positive effects on development, learning, attachment, and social regulation.

What Are the Benefits of a Hug?

There are numerous, evidence-based benefits of hugs, says Robyn Rausch, LPC-S, RPT-S, licensed professional counseling supervisor and registered play therapist who runs a platform called Calming Communities. “Hugs are important for humans in general, but even more for children because their brains are actively developing,” Rausch says. “Hugs provide a sense of connection to other people.” For children, hugs can be as integral as food, water, and shelter, Rausch explains.

Children’s brains are strongly affected by their environment and the people close to them. As such, connection to a parent through touch and hugging can have valuable emotional impacts, Rausch describes. One component of this is a psychological term called co-regulation, which is when one body uses mirror neurons to "sync up" to another human's body.

“If a calm and safe adult ‘syncs up’ to a child in distress, the child's brain begins to learn how to calm down and manage emotions in a healthy way,” Rausch explains. “But just like anything else, it takes consistent repetition of this co-regulated experience for their brain to learn how to do it independently.“

In addition to the power of connection and co-regulation for children, there are neurological benefits that come from hugging. Notably, hugging releases oxytocin in children, and also suppresses cortisol (stress hormone). Oxytocin makes us feel connected to the important people in our lives, but it also boosts mood, helps promote a sense of calm, and makes us feel safe, Rausch describes.

“Frequent experiences of oxytocin allow the brain to feel safe and secure, promoting its ability to learn new things, make positive decisions, and develop social skills,” Rausch says. “In other words, the more oxytocin a brain has while developing, the healthier and stronger it becomes.”

What If My Child Doesn't Like Hugs?

While there are many positives to offering hugs to your child, not all children like hugs, and some don’t want frequent hugs. That’s normal and okay. “Some children do not like hugs and should be supported in their preference,” says Dr. Franz.

If your child doesn’t like to be hugged, there are other ways you can connect, she says. "Offer different displays of affection such as praise or high fives," she shares. "If your child does not feel comfortable with hugs, encourage them to speak up in a polite but direct way."

It’s also important to support your children if they are in situations where they are being pressured to hug someone, such as an older relative. “Forcing hugs with family or friends falsely teaches children that others are 'owed' access to their bodies in exchange for being nice,” says Rausch.

Allowing children to express their feelings about hugs teaches them essential lessons about consent down the road. Forcing children to hug against their will can lead to teens and adults who feel guilt about denying physical interactions with someone who has been kind to them, says Rausch. “Just because a family member wants a hug doesn’t mean they can take it, just like a date isn’t owed anything just because they want it,” she explains.

Can You Hug Your Child Too Much?

Just as there is no set number of hugs you need to give your child in order for them to reap the benefits, there is no amount of hugging that is “too much.” However, it’s all about reading your child’s signals and only hugging when they want to be hugged. “It is important to always ask a child if they want a hug first,” Rausch says.

Rausch reminds us that children with sensory issues may not want as many hugs as neurotypical children, and it’s vital to honor that. “Children with sensory challenges may feel overwhelmed if a hug is too tight; conversely, they could also struggle to feel a hug unless it's super tight,” she describes. “To begin learning this, when a child says they want a hug, give them one. While hugging, ask if the hug is tight enough and adjust according to their answer.”

A Word From Verywell

When it comes to hugging your children, you can almost never go wrong. Hugging is a great way to bond with kids or make them feel safe, and it even helps them regulate their emotions, develop positive social skills, and thrive throughout life. If you have a child who doesn’t like to be hugged, you should honor those feelings. If you have further questions about your child's development or suspect that they may have social or neurological challenges, don’t hesitate to reach out to their pediatrician or healthcare provider for advice.

12 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a lactation consultant and writer covering maternal/child health, parenting, general health and wellness, and mental health. She has worked with breastfeeding parents for over a decade, and is a mom to two boys.