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.