We've all heard the old question, "Have you hugged your kid today?" There was good reasoning behind it.

There is a story that King Frederick II of Germany wanted to find out what language children would speak if they never heard anyone around them speak. He took in 50 infants and hired foster mothers to care for them. However, they were told to perform only the most rudimentary tasks and were not to cuddle, rock, or talk to them. All 50 infants were reputed to have died from failure to thrive.

Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was learned that the care and treatment of orphans within Soviet bloc countries was deplorable. Mary Carlson, a researcher from Harvard Medical School observed an overcrowded Romanian orphanage with an abundance of neglected babies lying in their cribs. The staff was overworked. So the infants were generally only touched when they were fed. Carlson noticed an eerie silence in the nursery. It was void of crying, babbling and whimpering. When she performed two-year check-ups, she discovered unusually high amounts of a brain damaging stress hormone. The children's growth was stunted, and they behaved as though they were half their age.

There is also the more recent case of the young boy, Artyom Savelyev, who was briefly adopted and then returned alone to Russia due to severe psychological problems stemming from his days in the orphanage.

From these two circumstances, one could conclude that babies, who aren't touched or spoken to affectionately, not only fail to thrive, but in extreme circumstances, even die. All humans need love, affection and communication. This is particularly true of children who develop and grow quickly. They simply don't thrive without touch and communication.

Touch lowers blood pressure, creates a sense of belonging, is understood as love and promotes growth on a number of levels.

So we all want our children to thrive and excel, but most of all, we want them to feel happy and secure. What, then, is a good rule of thumb on how often to hug your children?

American author and psychotherapist, Virginia Satir, puts it this way: "We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth."

Disclaimer: I have had foster children who had sustained tremendous emotional damage and could not be touched. Doing so caused a violent reaction. Something to keep in mind if you are nurturing children with emotional problems.

We can see by the above examples that talking to your child is equally important. In the first three years of life, a child's brain triples in size.

Some astounding statistics:

  1. Children from talkative families are likely to hear 30 million more words by the time they are three.

  2. The more words they are exposed to by age three, the better they score on cognitive tests.

  3. These same children score higher in third grade reading readiness tests.

  4. Talking to your children builds their trust, healthier relationships and social skills.

There are a number of activities that can kill these two birds with one stone:

  1. Start right from the beginning. Read and sing to them while in utero and rub your belly.

  2. From birth, hold and cuddle them while reading them a book, then discuss it.

  3. Play games like London Bridges, Duck Duck Goose, and other games that incorporate words and physical contact.

  4. Rock and sing to them.

  5. Play identity games like naming body parts and family members.

  6. Don't be afraid to read the classics or scriptures to them. Though you believe they may not comprehend, they are being exposed to those millions of words that will enrich their future vocabularies and make them better students.

  7. Just sit and talk to them about your day, touching them often.

  8. Utilize older siblings, grandparents and other family members to supplement these activities when you are swamped.

  9. Even when children are older, find at least a few moments each day for a one-on-one chat.

We all want happy and successful children. Make opportunities to hold them and talk to them. Start and the habit will develop and then it will become second nature. Your successful adult children will thank you for it later.

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