I gotta tell you… I love my 4 year old son, Ari, but sometimes he is a bit… well, let’s say “challenging.”
Particularly at bed time.
It becomes bad time.
He comes up with a wild array of excuses to stay awake – calling them out from his room.
“Mom, I want some water.”
“Mom, my blanket fell off.”
“Mom, I want to give you another good night kiss.”
“Mom, how many days till Friday?”
“Mom, remember that time I called it the ‘Statue of Delivery’?”
The first couple of things he calls out can (admittedly) be cute.
But after he’s reached his 11th rambling (no exaggeration), that’s when that aforementioned adjective of “challenging” kicks in.
I’ve tried everything. Reasoning with him. (“You’ll be tired tomorrow.”) Bribing him. (“I’ll get you that app you want.”) Threatening him. (“I won’t get you that app you want.”) Joking with him. ( “Warning! Warning! Mommy’s going to yell. Please no more words.”)
Note: I made up this phrase “Please no more words!” because it’s a highly gentle way to tell a child to quiet down.
When none of this works, I become tempted to yell.Uchhh. I hate yelling.
I often cry after I yell at Ari – because I remember how much I hated being yelled at by my mom as a kid.
I vowed I wouldn’t yell at my kids.
So the other night Ari reached his 12th rambling – and I reached my breaking point.
Ari had the strangest reaction. He looked at me – calmly – and said, “Mom, please don’t yell. Yelling is not going to make me want to go to sleep. In fact it will do the opposite. It will make me want to stay up even later – because it just makes me really mad at you.”
I was startled by his logical response. And at a loss for what I could possibly say or do to motivate Ari to go to sleep – if even yelling didn’t work.
I sighed. Loudly.
“Ari,” I said, “Help me. Please. What can I possibly say or do which will make you go to sleep?”
“Just hug me. Hugging me will make me want to listen to you.”
“Yes, hugging me will work. Yelling won’t.”
As a self help author I could understand (psychologically and neurologically) why hugging might work. But as a mommy I was skeptical.
What the heck. I leaned down and gave him a really big hug. He hugged me back.
And then – like a miracle – he went to sleep.
Ever since then, now when he won’t go to sleep, I jokingly tell him, “Please don’t make me come in there and hug you – cause I will – I will come in there and hug you – really hard!”
Admittedly he doesn’t always go to sleep with the first hug. But usually by the third hug he’s settled down and ready for sleep.
I gotta tell you… this hugging thing is a terrific strategy – not only for kids – but for connecting with and inspiring positive responses with your partner and friends too.
1. Activates Oxytocin
Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter that influences the limbic system – your brain’s emotional center. It reduces stress, makes you feel happier – and even inspires mammals to want to be more loyal and monogamous. More frequent hugs and higher oxytocin levels are linked to lower blood pressure and heart rate. So when I hug my son – it calms him – readying him for sleep. Plus it reconnects him to me – perhaps reawakening his loyalty to me – perhaps thereby re-inspiring him to want to make me happy – and do as I suggest: go to sleep.
2. Gets your Dopamine Going
Low Dopamine levels have been linked with depression, lack of enthusiasm and all kinds of mood disorders, mental illnesses – even Parkinson’s (a neurodegenerative disease). Happily, hugging is reported to increase Dopamine – thereby increasing that “feel-good feeling” – as well as feelings of motivation and enthusiasm. So when I hug my son, perhaps that revs up his motivational energies – thereby he tries a little harder at going to sleep.
3. Babies who are hugged a lot become adults who don’t stress as much
An Emory U study in rats found a link between touch and relieving stress, particularly in the early stages of life. Researchers surmised that the same applies to people – citing that babies’ development – including how they cope with stress as adults — depends on a combo of nature and nurture. So when I hug my son, I not only relieve his stress to calm him for sleep – I help set him up to become an adult who won’t stress as much later on in life.
So next time you’re angry and tempted to reach out and strangle someone, reach out and hug them instead.
Love to hear your thoughts on why and how not to yell at your child below in the comment area!
Hi I’m Karen Salmansohn, founder of NotSalmon. My mission is to offer you easy-to-understand insights and tools to empower you to bloom into your happiest, highest potential self. I use playful analogies, feisty humor, and stylish graphics to distill big ideas – going as far back as ancient wisdom from Aristotle, Buddhism and Darwin to the latest research studies from Cognitive Therapy, Neuro Linquistic Programming, Neuroscience, Positive Psychology, Quantum Physics, Nutritional Studies – and then some.