The importance of hugging in child development

The importance of hugging in child development

“Hi, I’m Olaf, and I like warm hugs!”

Remember the little snowman from “Frozen”, who, contrary to his cold exterior, admits freely that he loves the feeling that a warm hug gives? Hugging comes naturally to most of us, and is one of the things that we have all missed so much in the pandemic. But do you know why hugs are important and the science behind their role in child development?

Research on hugs is not as bounteous as we might expect, perhaps because we feel it’s a natural thing that most of us do without thinking. However, recent research is now deepening our understanding of the role of hugs in child development, and early years practitioners need to be aware of this and use it in a practical way.

We all know how comforting it is to receive a hug, especially if we are upset or are physically hurt. Having someone else take some of the strain, and physically wrap you up in a safe, warm genuine hug is like nothing else. Our stresses melt away and somehow, it calms our mood and puts us into a better state of mind. But researchers have recently revealed that children who get more hugs, also have more developed brains, compared to children who receive fewer hugs.

As long ago as the 1950s, John Bowlby’s research pointed to the importance of a mother’s touch, and his experiments were fundamental in forming his theories of attachment, showing the negative effects that being deprived of physical affection can bring.

Touch is one of the first senses we use. Our sense of smell, taste, sight, and hearing function, but we need time to understand what the inputs mean for us, for example recognising the difference between our mother and a stranger. However, the sense of touch can have a calming influence from birth.

In an article on the benefits of hugging1, Dr Susan Crowe, an obstetrician from Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, explained that as soon as it is physically safe for the mother and baby following birth, doctors and midwives place the baby on the mother’s chest, often with skin-to-skin contact, guiding the baby towards the breast to start the process of breastfeeding. However, regardless of whether breastfeeding is possible at this stage, the fact that the baby is being held by its mother within the first hour, can help normalise the baby’s body temperature, heartbeat and breathing pattern. The mother’s body releases hormones that cause more relaxation for her too after the exertions of birth.

This is the beginning of parental bonding and is not confined to the mother. If other partners hold the baby at this time, then their bonding with the infant starts too. The article also explains some of the benefits of infant massage for babies and how this can bring a wide range of benefits including:1

  • Better sleep patterns for the baby
  • Baby appears more aware of being loved, secure, and accepted
  • Improved digestion and bowel movements
  • Babies demonstrate more comfort by less fussy behaviour
  • Weight gain improves
  • Mother and baby appear more relaxed
  • Neurological function in babies is improved

Another review published on PubMed, outlining the results from various studies, showed that children in orphanages who had been deprived of positive touch, had detrimental effects, but when they received only 20 minutes of daily tactile stimulation, over 10 weeks, they increased their developmental scores.3 Premature babies who had their limbs stroked and mild limb movement, gained weight, had longer alertness, and more mobility. After one year, these premature infants scored high on growth and motor skills.4

One reason that researchers believe that positive touch and hugs are beneficial is to do with the release of oxytocin, which is a hormone and neurotransmitter produced in the hypothalamus and released from our pituitary gland. Oxytocin is responsible for the bonding between mother and baby. During breastfeeding, orgasm, and hugs, the levels of oxytocin rise leading to participants feeling trust, a maternal instinct and care, and it has sometimes been dubbed the ‘love’ hormone. Oxytocin has complex physiological interactions, and other physical effects in the body (such as aiding contractions in labour), but in the brain, is now thought to have beneficial effects on our emotional and social behaviours, affecting in some way, who we trust and see as safe. So hugging children can help them to feel safe and cared for by people they trust.5-11

This link between development and positive touch sensations extends into early childhood too, and children who have less tactile contact with their mother (either through a touch aversion on the part of the mother or the child), can lead to a condition known as ‘failure to thrive’ or FTT.12 However, when the children receive more hugs and positive touch, (which could be through interactions during play sessions such as a hand on an arm or a touch on a shoulder), the children can move from having FTT to being healthy and thriving, very quickly. Again, this is thought to be a result of the complex interactions of oxytocin which can also stimulate the release of growth hormones.

As well as affecting physical development, children’s emotional development is affected by hugs too as hugging has been shown to stop tantrums13-14. Many adults think that hugging a child having a tantrum will reinforce unwanted behaviour but as we understand the reasons behind children’s emotional outbursts better, and are beginning to see them as communication, this view is being challenged.

Children who are hugged when they are upset and cannot express their feelings, need reassurance and to feel safe again. A hug can be the quickest way to calm their fears and help them regain a balance in their emotions that they have not yet learned to control in other ways. Outbursts and temper tantrums are a sign that the child is stressed, which releases cortisol into the body. Too much cortisol has negative implications but a hug in difficult times can trigger the release of oxytocin, to counteract this. A hug will also teach them that you are there as a trusted adult, so can help them develop trust and resilience, knowing that ultimately ‘everything will be alright’.

So appropriate hugging is important in child development and can really make a difference to a child’s physical and emotional development.


  1. The benefits of touch for babies and parents. https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2013/09/the-benefits-of-touch-for-babies-parents.html
  2. Origins of attachment theory. https://cmapspublic2.ihmc.us/rid=1LQX400NM-RBVKH9-1KL6/the%20origins%20of%20attachment%20theory%20john%20bowlby%20and_mary_ainsworth.pdf
  3. Casler L. The effects of extra tactile stimulation on a group of institutionalized infants. Genet Psychol Monogr. 1965;71:137-175. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14279691
  4. Preterm Infant Massage Therapy Research: A Review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2844909/
  5. https://www.exchangefamilycenter.org/exchange-family-center-blog/2020/4/2/the-science-behind-hugging-your-kids5-benefits-for-you-and-your-child
  6. Smith AS, Wang Z. Salubrious effects of oxytocin on social stress-induced deficits. Hormones and Behavior. Published online March 2012:320-330. doi:10.1016/j.yhbeh.2011.11.010
  7. Uvnas-Moberg K, Petersson M. [Oxytocin, a mediator of anti-stress, well-being, social interaction, growth and healing]. Z Psychosom Med Psychother. 2005;51(1):57-80. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15834840
  8. Cohen S, Janicki-Deverts D, Turner RB, Doyle WJ. Does Hugging Provide Stress-Buffering Social Support? A Study of Susceptibility to Upper Respiratory Infection and Illness. Psychol Sci. Published online December 19, 2014:135-147. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4323947/
  9. Saphire-Bernstein S, Way BM, Kim HS, Sherman DK, Taylor SE. Oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) is related to psychological resources. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Published online September 6, 2011:15118-15122. doi:10.1073/pnas.1113137108
  10. Buchheim A, Heinrichs M, George C, et al. Oxytocin enhances the experience of attachment security. Psychoneuroendocrinology. Published online October 2009:1417-1422. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2009.04.002
  11. Kosfeld M, Heinrichs M, Zak PJ, Fischbacher U, Fehr E. Oxytocin increases trust in humans. Nature. Published online June 2005:673-676. doi:10.1038/nature03701
  12. Role of the Mother’s Touch in Failure to Thrive: A Preliminary Investigation: https://www.jaacap.org/article/S0890-8567(09)64114-9/fulltext
  13. The science behind your child’s tantrums. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/15/parenting/kids-tantrums-advice.html
  14. Infants Show Physiological Responses Specific to Parental Hugs. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2589004220301802




A holistic approach to SEND

A holistic approach to SEND

The first thing you learn when working with SEN children it that there is never a ‘one-size fits all’ approach and it is important that all your efforts are focused on the very individual needs that each child has. Just because they have a diagnosis of dyslexia, for example, doesn’t mean that you can get away with giving them a coloured overlay and hope it will solve all their problems. It won’t, and only a poorly-informed practitioner would think it could.

Special educational needs are just that – they are special and unique to the individual child and need to be tailored accordingly. A lot of settings and schools talk about promoting holistic education, but what does that actually mean, and how can you deliver this in your setting?

The term ‘holistic education’ is much more than just offering some extra-curricular trips once in a while, or a token attempt at inclusion every term, but it is often what a lot of places suggest counts as ‘holistic education’.

According to one online dictionary, holistic has two meanings:

  1. In philosophy – characterised by the belief that the parts of something are intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.
  2. 2. In medicine (and education) – characterised by the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the symptoms of a disease.

This means really understanding that there are many contributing factors that affect all of our lives, and you cannot easily separate them out if you want to improve the whole person. You need to think differently and consider how each one impacts on others.

In the SEND Code of Practice: A guide for health professionals, it states:

‘Our vision for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is the same as for all children and young people – that they achieve well in their early years, at school and in college and make a good transition to adulthood, to lead contented and fulfilled lives. This hasn’t always been the case. The SEND reforms introduced by the Children and Families Act 2014 aim to change this, with a focus on two key themes: greater cooperation between education, health and social care and a greater focus on the outcomes which will make a real difference to how a child or young person lives their life. For too long, health has been the missing partner in the SEND system. These reforms change that – they implement a holistic approach to supporting children and young people with SEND in all aspects of their life.’

Taking a holistic approach means looking at the person as a whole and trying to balance any interventions that are offered in a way that benefits that person’s entire being and how they live their life, not just in nursery or at school, but beyond into adulthood. It means considering various other factors in conjunction with their SEN, and which may be in addition to those factors listed in the EYFS, including:

  • Social situation and family life
  • Community issues
  • Mental health
  • Confidence and self-esteem
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Physical development
  • Social confidence and friendships
  • Creativity and self-expression
  • Empathy and appreciation
  • Individuality
  • And many more – the list will be endless!

As early years practitioners, we understand that 90% of brain development occurs by age 5, so it is vital that our settings provide experiences that support the whole child, including the above bullet points, and it is why we should provide multiple areas of stimulation through enriched and diverse environments, but understand how each affects the other.

In many educational settings, children with special needs are often taken out of subjects they do well at (such as Art or Drama), in favour of studying Maths or English, but this can impact negatively on their self-esteem when they feel they are missing a subject that supports them in other ways. This is just an example, but it raises questions about whether the child’s preferences could be taken into account in a more holistic approach, that doesn’t impact negatively on their mental health to serve an academic outcome. In early years, we may fall into the trap of focusing on one small thing at the expense of a larger other.

Many children with special needs also have more than one learning difficulty – people with autism can also have sensory issues, and people with dyslexia may have dyspraxia. The challenge here is to try to try to meet all of the needs in the best way possible. This is where good planning and communication are vital.


  • Are there ways to combine interventions to get the best outcome?
  • Are you considering health issues?
  • Are you considering social issues?
  • How will your work impact on other areas of the child’s life?
  • Can you involve others to help?

Partnering with others

To provide a holistic approach to SEND, it is vital you form partnerships with other people and agencies. When information is shared appropriately, instead of having just one piece of the jigsaw, everyone will begin to see the whole picture.

Parents are obviously the first port of call and will have insights that you do not, and vice versa, so setting up regular sessions to talk to the parents will help you understand what their child needs; you can also tell parents what is working well in the setting, so they can continue the practice at home.

Remember too that many parents of special needs children are under enormous stress themselves, which can impact their own mental health and wellbeing, and subsequently, that of the child. Offering help and support to parents via advice/support groups, meetings or just passing on relevant information that could be useful to them, will have an impact.

You should also develop partnerships with health and social care services, and they should be contacting you for updates, reviews and progress reports. By working together, plans such as EHCPs can be drawn up effectively to really support the whole child, but ensure they are regularly reviewed and amended to grow with the child.

Supporting your SENCo

Your SENCo will have ultimate responsibility for the outcomes and provision for children with special needs, but could you support them better by training your staff or increasing cooperation between colleagues? There are many CPD courses which raise awareness of SEND issues and there is no substitute for regular meetings with colleagues to check on a child’s progress across the board to consider holistic issues.


Updates to the NEW EYFS-compatible Footsteps 2!

Updates to the NEW EYFS-compatible Footsteps 2!

Last month we reported on our customer and industry research into the imminent EYFS Framework changes and how these will affect our Footsteps 2 EYFS tracker, advising that we would be incorporating the new Development Matters framework into Footsteps 2.

We would like to thank everybody again who took the time to answer our survey and attended our Q&A workshop; your participation and feedback so far has been invaluable.

What framework will Footsteps be using in September?

As a result of our research and your feedback we have decided to incorporate the new Development Matters framework into Footsteps.

How will updating the Development Matters framework affect Observations in Footsteps?

From September all new observations will be linked to the new framework; the main changes you will notice in the system when creating an observation are that the EYFS aspects have been removed, and that there are now only three age bands:

Current System

Updated System

Viewing & Editing Existing Observations:

You will still be able to view all of the existing observations in the system, but you will not be able to edit them.

Baseline Observations:

To ensure you are able to continue accurately tracking the learning and development of your children, it will be necessary to re-do a Baseline observation to create a new starting point for the updated EYFS guidance.

You may find it useful to save a copy of the Statement Gaps report for each child to help you quickly complete the new Baseline observations.

How will updating the Development Matters framework affect Assessments in Footsteps?

The Assessments section of Footsteps has been simplified based on the changes in the new Development Matters framework, meaning they should be quicker to complete.

2 Year Check Assessment:

The main change to this report is that there will only be one text box per EYFS area, and you will no longer have to select which age band the child is working in. We have temporarily removed the ‘View Progress’ buttons whilst we are working on updating these.

Current System

Updated System

NEW Progress Check Assessment:

We have added a new generic Progress Check assessment which you will be able to use at any time to record a child’s learning and development, such as end of term/year reports for parents. There will be a text box for you to enter comments for each EYFS area and their Characteristics of Effective Learning as well as highlighting areas of good progress and any areas the child may require extra support.

COMING SOON – Updated EYFS Profile Assessment:

We will be updating the EYFS Profile assessment to reflect the new Early Learning Goals. You will be able to enter comments about a child’s learning and development for each EYFS area and assess whether they are at an ‘Emerging’ or ‘Expected’ level in relation to the Early Learning Goals.

Viewing & Editing Existing Assessments:

You will still be able to view all of the existing assessments in the system, but you will not be able to edit them anymore.

What else has changed in the system?


During our research we discovered that the report which is used the most is the Learning Journey report; consequently, we have ensured that this report has been updated to work with both the old and new Development Matters frameworks. The Wellbeing & Involvement report was not affected by the EYFS guidance changes and will also be available to use in September.

The following reports will initially only show progress based on the old Development Matters framework and will only run up to 31st August 2021 (but rest assured we are working very hard on updating these for you!):

  • Learning Overview report
  • Progress report
  • Tracker report
  • Next Steps report
  • Statement Gaps report
  • Characteristics of Effective Learning report

Please let us know by emailing feedback@parenta.com which reports you use the most in Footsteps to help us prioritise our order of development.  

NEW Observation Shortcut:

We have also added a shortcut to the tiles on the Children page to help you quickly record an observation:

You will still be able to view a child’s details by clicking on the tile.

When will we have access to the updated system?

It is our aim to give you early access to the system so that you have time to familiarise yourself with the changes and begin adding new Baseline observations, so that you are ready for the start of the new academic year in September.

In our current timeline we are hoping you will be able to trial the system in the week commencing Monday 2nd August 2021. Please keep an eye on your inbox at this time for more details.

We are interested in any feedback you have on the changes we have made and would encourage you to email us at feedback@parenta.com

Is there anything that I need to do before switching to the new curriculum?

Before switching to the new Development Matters framework, we recommend that any draft observations and assessments are completed, and any observations or assessments that are awaiting approval are reviewed and either approved or rejected.

We are planning on hosting training sessions on the EYFS changes in Footsteps in the week commencing Monday 9th August 2021, we will send out more details closer to the time.

5 Ways to Ensure You Have Strong Branding

5 Ways to Ensure You Have Strong Branding

Your brand is arguably one of the most important assets of your childcare business. It gives it an identity; one that is recognisable, which can connect with existing parents/carers, that can encourage new customers, and can bring your employee’s pride. It is at the core of your marketing strategy. So, how can you check you’re making the most of your branding?

  1. Do you Have Brand Identity?

This is more than just your logo and font choice: this is about your ‘values’ – how you communicate them to your parents and local community, your USP (unique selling point), the way you answer your phone, reply to your emails and how you make people feel when they interact with any member of your team.

  1. Check Your Brand is Consistent

Is your brand consistent across all your marketing materials? Your website, business cards, signage, banners, social media pages, prospectus, emails and newsletter should all reflect your brand and complement one another. If you find inconsistencies when reviewing these, then it’s time to update.

  1. Check your website!

This is your key online marketing platform showcasing your business brand. Ensure all your policies and procedures, downloadable forms, menus and documents are all reflecting your branding.

  1. Quality Check

Be sure to check whether your pictures are of good quality, whether the images of your setting are culturally well-balanced and up to date, whether the contact information is correct and consistent. Think about the overall impression these factors make on your audience and how professional your business is perceived by your customers.

  1. Domain and Emails

Is your email reflecting your domain? (For example, if your domain is parentanursery.co.uk then your email should be info@parentanursery.co.uk or contact@parentanursery.co.uk or hello@parentanursery.co.uk)

Your brand speaks volumes to your customers about your professionalism, and the quality of service they can expect to receive. Therefore, getting your branding message consistent across all your marketing materials is important. Taking the time to review this will also help you reach your target audience much more effectively.

Looking for help branding your setting? Contact our website team today and they will be more than happy to help!


Five ‘Sure Fire’ Ways To Increase Traffic To Your Site

Five ‘Sure Fire’ Ways To Increase Traffic To Your Site

There are many ways to boost traffic to your website but here, we look at five specific points to get you started.

1. Get Social

Social media marketing is a perfect place for sharing your setting information to a huge audience.
If you don’t already have a Facebook account for your nursery/preschool this is a great place to start. Create a Facebook ‘business page’ and look to add this to your local community group. It’s a great, FREE, way to showcase your setting. You can use this platform to advertise availability in your setting and keep parents updated with your latest news and events – just don’t forget to link to your website!

LinkedIn is a great place to showcase your setting to similar industry professionals and share content. It is also a great place to advertise jobs and network. If you have a LinkedIn account, encourage customers and colleagues to give your nursery/pre-school a recommendation, this helps to establish a credible/reliable setting and earn trust.

2. Mix It Up!

Make sure the content on your site is varied to ensure it is interesting to a variety of potential and existing parents and carers. Include videos, images, short news stories with longer sections of text, FAQs, data for fees and funding and key CTA (call to action). Having useful, interesting and important information will keep parents on your site for longer and encourage an enquiry.

3. Capturing Headlines

These are a vital part of your content. Ensure your headings are compelling to your prospective/existing parents: your content is far more likely to be read if the heading appeals.

4. Don’t Forget to Link!

You should be concentrating on not only increasing good quality backlinks to your website (from trusted, well-known related sites) but ALSO linking internally from content within the site. This not only helps with SEO but also results in better navigation/user experience for your existing/prospective parents and carers.

5. Research Your Competition

Look at your competitors’ websites – what do they have on their site that might be missing on yours? Are they on social media? What are they talking about? How are they engaging with parents in your area? Where are they listed? Find out what parents/carers and industry professionals are talking about and include this in your online content.

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