Want Happier Kids? Cuddle More

Image source: Thinkstock
Image source: Thinkstock

Each morning around 7:00, my 5-year-old son bounds into bed with my wife and me. For a few glorious minutes, we’ll lay side-by-side, our arms entangled. While my wife showers, Felix will stay nestled with me. Sometimes, my wife has to gently nudge us out of bed. What can I say? My son and I like to cuddle.

If you had asked me some years back, I would have crinkled my nose at the word “cuddling.” When it came to affection, I felt comfortable expressing passion — I’ve always loved making out, for example. But just snuggling next to someone in a warm, physical but non-sexual kind of way? That felt too … I don’t know. Sensitive. Nurturing, maybe. Cheesy, for sure.

Having an infant has shown me the error of my ways. On countless days at home with my little guy, I carried him around the downstairs in my arms, softly bouncing his chubby body to music as I tried to lull him to sleep. When he was a toddler, I would lay down with him in bed each afternoon, holding him to me as we both got some shut eye. During those months, I realized that I had swallowed down and hidden away an essential part of myself. There was a part of me, an important part, begging not just to be let out, but to be coddled and tucked in close!

That’s right, I had a big cuddle-monster lurking inside of me.

Good thing, too. Studies show that cuddling releases oxytocin, a hormone that improves a person’s happiness and sense of connection to others. Higher oxytocin levels means that you communicate better, trust people more, experience less stress, and feel a general satisfied attachment to humanity. It’s even known to boost your immune system!

So if you’re having an existential-type crisis, don’t freak out. Just go get a hug.

Scientists have found that rat pups who cuddle with their moms perform better at mazes, and were not just more social, but more curious too. They also lived longer. This has led to suggestions that the most important thing we can do to help our children become healthy, happy adults is to snuggle, hug, and demonstrate our affection in tender touches.

And how can you hang out with a plump, happy baby and not want to scope them up in your arms? Resisting that urge isn’t just futile, it’s dumb. Who would want to miss out on that kind of love?

And so it’s with great pride that I’ve come out as a guy who loves to cuddle! Whether it’s after dinner, when my little guy wants to plop himself in my lap to tell me about his day, or we’re lingering in bed on a Saturday morning, sleeping late — what can I say? I’m a dad who enjoys snuggling up with his son.

And we’re both happier because of it.

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