Friday, May 29, 2009

Hug Your Boys

Boys need two things that we tend to forget about when we focus only on their physical abilities and their higher activity levels: They need more touch and more conversation.

-- Michael Thompson, PhD, author of Raising Cain

How often do you hug your sons? As often as you hug your daughters?

An interesting study from Northern Ireland found that young children (under three) are hugged more often than older children. Older boys are the least likely to be hugged; 17% of the parents of boys ages 12-15 admitted they never hugged or cuddled those boys. Dads, by a 2 to 1 margin, were far more likely to hug or cuddle their 12-15 year-old daughters than sons.

Which is sad, especially when you consider this: Oxytocin, a hormone that enhances bonding, is released in the first 20 seconds of a hug -- for females. Boys need to be touched two to three times as much as girls to attain the same level of oxytocin.

Young boys, Thompson says, will ask for a hug when they need it. (Which is why I've been getting such wonderful, wonderful hugs from Boy #4 lately.) But older boys look to their parents for cues. If his parents seem at all uncomfortable about hugging and physical closeness, the growing boy soon stops asking and gets his physical contact through aggression instead.

I know I have to remind myself to hug my older boys, much more than with the younger ones, who squeeze love into me every chance they get. But it's so incredbily satisfying. Hugging my 11-year-old these days means feeling a chin on par with my shoulder. Hugging my 8-year-old brings out his dimples; he almost never asks for a hug anymore, but those dimples show me how much he still enjoys my touch. My 6-year-old likes to cuddle with me as he falls asleep, and my three-year-old -- well, his hugs are the light of my day.

So hug your sons, big or small. They may be old enough to wrap you in their arms, but that's OK. They still need your touch.


  1. great post. it's a great reminder. my 6 year old has started to act as if he's too cool for hugs and kisses but this really helps me remember he needs them just as much as the other two who are always snugglin up to me

  2. My 9 yr old boy gives the best hugs! Thanks for the reminder to seek out those fabulous hugs often.

  3. As a first year homeschooler, I have to say how amazed I am at the amount of physical closeness my boys want/need from me. We wake up and hug. I get spontaneous hugs throughout the day. We snuggle to read or talk or one of them may just pull me to the couch to have a moment. I once read about a mom who never pulled away from a hug with her children, she would wait until they released her. I followed her lead. It is a great way to hug. The hug will often go on and on. Try it!

  4. Andrea,
    I try and do the same thing too. (My thinking is that these hugs won't last forever and I want to get the most from them I can!) And I'm almost always surprised to find them hugging me long after I would have thought they'd let go.

    Wonderful stuff.

  5. Enjoy those little boy hugs while you can! I have four sons, and I miss the hugs from my two oldest, who are now teenagers and wouldn't be caught dead with their mom's arms around them! They grow up way too fast.

  6. I found your blog and love your posts. I have 3 sons, older than yours, but my 18-year-old comes to me to be hugged after school and once in a while. I also hug the youngest at 15. My husband rarely does, which is sad.

  7. I love this post. =)

  8. Great posting. I have a 13 year old son who has started distancing himself and acting like he is embarassed to have me or any family members around him because he says we annoy him and embarass him in front of his friends. He also pulls away when I try to hug him. He lets his Dad hug him a little, but he doesn't like that either. He is just too intimidated by Dad to tell him to back off, as he easily does to me. He is acting like a spoiled, self-centered brat. My oldest son didn't act this way at all and loved to have me around and chatted it up with me and would run up to me when he was in high school and say "Mom!!!!" and just bear hug me. He loved to show me off to his friends and say "This is my Mom, guys!!" He was always proud of me. My oldest son is now 22 and a US Marine, and STILL treats me this way in front of his Marine buddies. He loves Momma! :) My sons are both very different personalities, yes, but I still figured boys were boys and would behave the same way during their formative years. Any thoughts on how to handle my youngest and his behavior towards me and the family? Thanks!

  9. C. Wrye -- Thanks for writing. Please give your Marine Son a big Oooo-rah! for me -- my husband was in the Marine for six years.

    I think the answer to your question lies in your second-to-last sentence: "My sons are both very different personalities, but I still figured boys were boys and would behave the same way during their formative years." Not so. Boys may be boys, but there's a wide range of "boy," and as you're learning, each boy is an individual with different emotional needs and modes of expression.

    I'm dealing with this myself right now, albeit at much younger ages. Boy #1 is much more like me in emotional temperament. He's very emotional and his emotions affect his life. When he's upset, you know it. When he's happy, you know it. And when he's upset, he -- eventually -- comes to me for comfort. We talk and hug and bond.

    Boy #2 is not like this. Boy #2, I'm learning, is much more like his Dad in personality. He's not one to verbally express what's going on, and when he's upset, he wants to be alone. He's been like this from the time he was young; even as a toddler, I couldn't hold him to comfort him when he was upset.

    It's hard for me to deal with these emotional differences, b/c I don't naturally speak #2's emotional language. What I try to do, though, is respect his needs. If he needs space, I give him space -- while letting him know that I'm available to talk. Instead of broaching the subject with him, I may just "hang" with him for awhile, maybe by playing a game with him. And while he's not overtly physically affectionate, I still make it a point to hug him every single day. It's often a quick hug -- and often pushed away -- but the shy smile on his face tells me that it meas a lot to him.

    So my advice is to give your 13-year-old some time and space -- he's working on separating himself from you, after all -- while watching and monitoring closely. Respect his need for personal space, but still hug him. Maybe not in front of his friends and maybe not a long drawn out hug, but a quick, I-care-about-you-hug. Try to carve out time to do other things with him as well. Even if it's "just" playing video games with him, it's quality time and may mean a lot to him.

    Keep me posted! I'd love to hear how you and your family are doing.