|Clay art by Lim's Son|
By Seow Lim*
Every evening, when I pick up my kid from his after school, he runs towards me, and gives me a big tight hug. “Mommy, I missed you so much.”, he says. It feels so good. It fees like the entire day of tiredness drains away from me, and I have this little guy who is so attached to me. Scientifically, I have learnt that hugging helps release oxytocin (also known as the cuddle hormone), the chemical that’s linked to social bonding, promoting devotion, trust and bonding.
Our hug usually re-energizes me. Instead of drifting back to my problems at work and the tasks I need to complete, I make sure that I focus my thoughts on my boy, making sure that we use our 15-20 minutes ride home as high quality time together. It is usually not easy to tear your mind away from all those complex problems or addictive emails that need to be answered right away, but holding my son’s hands help me focus on him and my conversation with him.
After the big hug, I hold his hand while we walk back to the car. I ask him about his school and his friends. He loves to share his day with me. I also try to find an opportunity to ask him a different question each day, about his thoughts and feelings. Questions like:
_ “Is there someone in your class whom you see trying hard to do something that seems hard for him/her?”
_ “If you could invent something today, what would you make?”
_ “Have you been left out in any games at school?”
Being 7, he sometimes returns my question: “I don’t know. What do you think?”. That gives me the opportunity to share with him my daily experience and feelings too, letting him see that sometimes things are hard for me as well, and how I also need to try hard to learn or ask for help to solve my problems.
He is a very sweet and empathetic boy. There was once a time when I told him about a difficulty I had met with and that I didn’t know how to solve. He actually said: “Mommy, it’s ok. I am sure you will find a solution. Just keep trying.” After we got out of the car, he gave me another big hug. I had tears in my eyes. My stress level had gone down at that point.
Was it the effect of the hug that activated the Pacinian pressure receptors on my skin, and that sent signals to my vagus nerve, the area of my brain that’s responsible for lowering my blood pressure? Or was it the empathy I had received from this young child of mine? We deliver positive and encouraging messages to our kids, and how nice it is for them to have learnt that and deliver them back to us when we need them the most?
Every night, at bed time routine, my boy holds his hands up and says, “Mommy, you haven’t hugged me yet!” We then hug each other tightly for 30 seconds and he always says, “Mommy, I love you so much.” And I say, “I love you too.” I can always see the big grin he has on his face when he hears me say that, and that’s true happiness!
Once I asked him why he wanted me to hug him every night.“I don’t know, but I think I feel safer if you do.”, he replied. According to research results, children who are frequently hugged grow up to display fewer stress symptoms as adults. That’s a similar effect to kids hugging teddy bears or other plush toys to sooth their fears sometimes.
Our connection continues after the hugs. I often read with him, and I’ve also made a habit of asking him more in-depth questions related to the stories we read. I’ve found out that just reading to him is not enough, I need to encourage him to discuss the perspective of the characters that we read about. That helps him to see the perspective of others, and definitely helps him with expressing and communicating his thoughts more coherently.
For example, when we read a story about a child being left out of a game, I followed-up with questions such as:
“How would you feel if you were that child?” which is ‘perspective taking’
“What would you do to ask to be included in the game?” which is ‘problem solving’
“If you were to design a game, what type of game would you design?” which is ‘creativity’.
With my older child, I read many books and focused on reading to increase his vocabulary. Yes, I was a first time mom, a Tiger mom. However, I’ve learnt that using reading time to connect, communicate, understand each other; and have your child express his feelings and opinions is a lot more important than just building vocabulary. I know now that how I’ve used reading time and bedtime routines differently with my two sons, might have effected their development. They are both great boys, just different.
*Seow Lim is the creator and CEO of Povi. She is also the starter and admin of Emotional Intelligence for Kids Facebook Group.
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