Hug during difficult times

Think about those tense moments with your child this past week. Did those epic tantrums and meltdowns resolve themself easily or did they drag on for what seemed like an eternity? Consider using the heartbeat hug.

The heartbeat hug is a mechanism to de-escalate tantrums, anxiety, and fears. With the heartbeat hug, a caregiver’s heartbeat becomes synchronized with a child’s breathing with a simple and intentional hug, calming the child quicker. Avoid scolding or trying to reason with your child during those difficult times.

Kristen Mae, a writer for “Scary Mommy” said, “Rather than get frustrated or send them to time out, I would sit next to them and ask if they wanted a hug. If they agreed to that (they almost always did), I’d tell them to lay their head on my chest and listen to my heartbeat. This worked like magic for my kids. Telling them to listen to my heartbeat did two things: It helped them to stop crying pretty quickly because they couldn’t hear my heartbeat if they were screaming, and, when they finally heard my heartbeat, which was likely going slower than theirs in their excited state, it helped their own heart rate to decelerate.”

Hugging a child during a tantrum does not mean you are rewarding negative behavior. In “Parenting For the Brain,” the following analogy is given, “Hugging without giving in is helping a child learn to self-regulate. Regulating one’s emotion is like driving a car. In our bodies, there are two separate mechanisms that control our emotions. The arousal branch in our nervous system speeds up our emotion, while the calming branch can put a brake on our arousal. Emotion dysregulation happens the arousal branch is overactive and the calming branch is underactive. That means the gas pedal is pressed all the way down while the brake is broken. So, when a child cries intensely, they are driving an emotional runaway car.”

Young children do not come automatically equipped to regulate their emotions. Amazingly though, at the age of 4 months, a child can learn the difference between a parent and a stranger’s hug. This signifies the importance of a parent’s emotional support. Research suggests that the heartbeat hug can be used well beyond the early learning years and has been successful for many parents with teenagers.

It’s been said that it’s not what happens to you that matters, but how you react to it that does. So why not react with a hug? Hug your children, even more, and especially during those difficult times. You will be glad that you did.


Carrie Kube is a director for the Iowa River Valley

Early Childhood Area Board.


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