I’m excited to share this strategy because it is super effective despite the fact that it seems WAY too simple to work. In fact, I was extremely skeptical as I read about it repeatedly over the last year. I have tried it here and there with mixed results but recently learned how to do it slightly different and it changed EVERYTHING.
It’s something that you can use at any time. You can use it during the happy, fun moments. Use it to stop whining and complaining. Use it in the middle of a temper tantrum. It works. It’s amazing. And it’s really easy.
What is it?
Wait! Before you roll your eyes and X out of this window, hear me out. I had the exact same reaction as you. When I first read this I felt tricked. Instead of the sure-fire tactic I was promised I was given some touchy-feely BS. What do you want me to do, tackle my toddler mid-tantrum and hug her as she thrashes about?
The short answer is no, no tackling. But yes, touchy-feely BS sometimes works, and here’s why.
5 Reasons Why Hugs can Help
1. Hugging causes our muscles to relax. Have you ever entered a hug tense only to melt after a moment or two? It’s an awesome antidote for tension.
2. It establishes connection. It allows for an exchange across the bio-energic field generated by the heart (aka your hearts connect). This increases empathy and understanding which brings down our defenses. Connection is always the first step in solving any issue.
3. It builds trust. Physical contact produces oxytocin, a neurochemical that builds trust and makes you feel safe. This is essential if you want to get to the root of your child’s meltdown – they have to trust you to help them, that you’re not going to shrug off their feelings.
4. A hug improves your mood. It increases serotonin which regulates your mood and contributes to well-being and happiness. If you and your child are feeling better then you’re going to think clearly rather than react.
5. Hugging alleviates stress. It reduces the levels of cortisol, which enables the person to calm down. Let’s face it, it’s easy to get worked up when our child is losing it. A hug can help both the child and parent to calm down.
Remember, children do better when they feel better and so do adults. Taking a pause for a hug can reverse a power struggle or meltdown. It can help your child relax enough not to go into full tantrum mode and a hug can help keep you level-headed enough to deal with the situation and not lose your cool.
How to Apply the “Hug” when Dealing with a Meltdown
In the past, as I’ve see my preschooler unraveling, whining, getting upset, raising her voice, getting agitated, and otherwise headed on the path to full tantrum (or sometimes in full tantrum) I have said something like “You look like you need a hug. Would you like a hug?” Admittedly, I’ve had mixed results. Sometimes she wants a hug and sometimes she refuses.
After reading examples that told me to hug them mid-tantrum I actually tried it. Picture me diving in and grabbing hold of her while she thrashes about. As much as I attempted a compassionate hug, this felt like a wrestling match as I was trying to restrain her. Not good. I REALLY don’t recommend this.
Recently I learned how to approach the hug from a different angle. Rather than telling her that she looks like she needs a hug, which can be met with resistance, I tell her I need a hug. If the tantrum is about a power struggle then telling her she needs a hug can further escalate the power struggle as she insists she doesn’t need it. However, she can’t argue with the fact that I need a hug.
So I tell her I need a hug and ask her to give me one. “I need a hug.” If she refuses, I repeat.
If she refuses again, I’ll repeat “I need a hug” and I’ll ask her to come find me when she’s ready. Then I leave the room.
I have put this into practice several times and have been shocked at how well it works. Like after 30 seconds it was all over and we were happy again. I sat there stunned. Did that just happen?
By asking for the hug instead of telling, it plays to the child’s innate desire to contribute and help which makes them feel valued and respected. They want to help, so asking them for a hug makes them want to give it to you to help you.
Even if your child is not yet ready to give you a hug, they know you’re waiting. You are calmly waiting in another room to give them some love. Not scolding. Not yelling. Love. It takes the power out of their meltdown and let’s you reconnect with them immediately after it’s finished.
Once you are hugging, all the magic physiological responses kick in, which diffuses the mood and helps the two of you connect.
Sometimes that’s all that’s needed to move on. Other times, you can talk about what happened or come up with a solution together now that you’ve both settled down and are thinking clearly.
Although simple and easy to disregard, a hug can be your new best friend. Give it a try and let me know how it works.
Collective Evolution. 11 Benefits of Hugging – Backed by Chemistry. Retrieved at http://www.collective-evolution.com/2015/12/03/the-chemistry-of-hugging-11-benefits-of-hugging/
Serotonin: Facts, What does Serotonin Do? Medical News Today. Retrieved at http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/kc/serotonin-facts-232248
The Undeniable Power of a Simple Hug. Physiology Today. Retrieved at https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/lifetime-connections/201606/the-undeniable-power-simple-hug