Typically, close parent-child relationships involve quality time, with a great deal of playing together, having meaningful conversations, gentle soothing touch and of course, lots of hugs and kisses thrown in. Research from across the globe confirms the positive impact such close parent-child relationships can have not only on the emotional security of children but also on their physical health and well-being. This article examines the health benefits of maintaining close parent-child relationships.
Health benefits of playing with your child
Active child-centered play is a time-tested way of producing healthy, fit young bodies. In childhood, stress often manifests as physical sensations and leads to somatic illnesses. When you engage in free play with your child, you provide him an opportunity to process his stressful feelings and release them. Naturally, he will feel lighter both in body and mind, thereby minimising the adverse physical effects of stress and maintaining better overall health. The critical aspect here is that the play must be child-led and child-directed, so ensure that you do not impose rules and restrictions on him. Moreover, he must enjoy this time of playing and freely connecting with you, without any pressure to perform.
Physical play is also very good for the heart, as it offers a fun cardio workout. This is advantageous for both you, and your little one. Moreover, play has been linked directly to brain growth and development in children. Creative free play enhances imagination, memory and cognition.
How gentle touching can enhance well-being
Many parents make the time for soothing massages using baby oil when an infant is very young. As your child grows older, you may stop this bonding ritual with her. However, your toddler still needs your gentle touch in order to feel connected with you as well as to stay healthy. In addition to enhancing skin health, gentle touching through massage has other tangible health benefits. Stimulating touch receptors under the skin can lower your child’s blood pressure and cortisol levels, effectively reducing her stress.
Hugging can keep him healthy
Hugging your child can increase the level of oxytocin in his body. This, in turn, can strengthen his immune system, and help him ward off infections. Oxytocin has also been found to lower the plasma levels of thyroid hormones thereby causing injuries to heal faster.
Having meaningful conversations
When a child represses her emotions and keeps them bottled up inside, her body reacts to this psychic pain through physical problems such as stomach aches, headaches, sleep problems, appetite disturbances, etc. By encouraging her to talk about her feelings, and listening to her non-judgmentally, you can relieve her of all such physical symptoms, thereby promoting her health and well-being.
Health benefits of kissing are real
Research has linked kissing to an increase in the rate of metabolism. Dr. Sharon Stills, naturopathic physician and author of R.E.D. Alert — Get Real and Heal, states that kissing burns about 2 to 3 calories per minute. So exchanging kisses with your adoring toddler is not only good for his emotional health, but for your physical health as well!
Some simple activities to enhance closeness with your child
Let us now look at some simple activities that can enhance your closeness with your child, and in the long run, help in improving everyone’s overall emotional and physical health.
Read aloud together
Even if you spend just a few minutes each day reading a picture book or a simple storybook out loud with your child, he will feel closer and more connected to you. This can also serve as a precursor to having a conversation about his feelings.
My all-time favourite activity for toddlers is a modified version of the traditional show-and-tell game. Here, your toddler picks up an object randomly, kisses you on the cheek and goes on to describe how she thinks that object reminds her of you. You then switch roles with her and do the same – by picking up some object that reminds you of her, kissing her on the cheek and sharing with her how it does that.
Another fun activity that toddlers enjoy, Hugathon greatly enhances parent-child bonding and thereby improves physical and emotional health. You can invite your child for a Hugathon by saying whoever can hug without squirming for three minutes wins a star. This way, you can encourage long and sustained hugs, which are very refreshing and therapeutic, both for you and your little one. And while you are locked in an embrace with your child, you can narrate a story or invite him to do the same.
Young children need a great deal of sensory stimulation and verbal processing with their primary caregivers. By increasing the amount of quality time you spend with your child engaging in visual-auditory-tactile activities like the ones described above, you can promote the health and well-being of the entire family, with special emphasis on the child.
The author is a child psychologist who uses non-directive play to help children therapeutically.
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