Receiving a hug from a parent is the best way to reassure children, a new study reveals

·3-min read
A hug from their parents is the best way of reassuring a child. (Getty Images)
A hug from their parents is the best way of reassuring a child. (Getty Images)

A hug from mum and dad really is the best way of reassuring a child, a new scientific study has revealed.

With the UK on lockdown, schools closed and social distancing in full swing, the coronavirus pandemic is having a pretty big impact on many children.

But new research has revealed a hug from their parents could help ease anxiety.

At a time of fear and uncertainty for many families, researchers found that hugs from parents can help slow a toddler’s heart rate.

While caregivers hug their infants to express affection and joy, it was somewhat unknown how infants react to being hugged.

The study, published in the journal iScience, examined heart rate responses in infants less than one year during a hold, a hug, and a tight hug.

They also looked at what happens when a female stranger did the hugging instead.

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A hug from their parents could help reassure little ones during these uncertain coronavirus times. (Getty Images)
A hug from their parents could help reassure little ones during these uncertain coronavirus times. (Getty Images)

The researchers report that during a hug parents and infants both showed an increase in what’s known as the R-R interval (RRI) on an electrocardiogram.

The R-R interval is the time between a particular waveform that measures electrical activity of the heart. The increased time indicates a slowed heart rate.

Infants younger than four months showed a slowed heart rate when a parent’s hand put pressure on his or her back while being held, suggesting that they didn’t make the same distinction as older infants between being held and being hugged.

Read more: How coronavirus measures may be affecting children's mental health

Surprisingly the calming effect of the hug could only be detected on infants who were neither crying nor fussy.

Commenting on the findings study lead author Professor Sachine Yoshida, of Toho University in Japan, said: “We know that children love to be hugged by their parents.

“But what surprised us as scientists is how little we know about hugging.”

Scientists believe that hugs play an important role in the bonding process between baby and parent.

“The infants older than four months old showed a high increase ratio of heartbeat intervals during hugging by their parents than by female strangers.

“Parents also showed a high increase ratio of heartbeats intervals by hugging their infants. We found that both infants and parents come to relax by hugging.”

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A hug from a parent helps slow a child's heart rate, a new study has found. (Getty Images)
A hug from a parent helps slow a child's heart rate, a new study has found. (Getty Images)

And that knowledge could prove vital as families face a period of increased uncertainty due to COVID-19.

Professor Yoshida continued: “Your baby loves to be hugged and loves how you hug your baby.

“Even though infants cannot speak, they recognise their parents through various parenting methods, including hugging, after four months old at latest.

“We hope that knowing how your baby feels while being hugged helps ease the physical and psychological workload of taking care of infants too young to speak.”

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