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Posted on Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 5:30 a.m.

Why hugging matters: At the end your day, replace the frazzled rush with affectionate greetings

By Kerry Novick

Dear Kerry,
Somehow the end of the day and the runup to the evening in our house is always a hassle. My husband and I get home from work, one of us has picked our kids up from daycare, there's dinner to make, and everyone gets frazzled and short-tempered. Any tips on how to make this smoother?
—JV, Milan

Dear JV,
You are not alone — most people find the end of the day, when kids and parents are tired, harder to handle. When you add in the multiple tasks you're describing, and the separate, demanding days everyone has had, it's not surprising that everyone gets a bit frazzled. Instead of trying to help you streamline the moment, I'm going to offer some advice that may seem counter-intuitive, but it's based on serious research about how we all manage our feelings.

Rather than diving into the many tasks right away, and firing questions at the kids, trouble-shooting and trying to resolve conflicts, consider how you all greet each other. Surprisingly, the way people reunite after absence can be a powerful influence on their immediate feelings, as well as having a long-term effect on personality development and functioning.

We all crave hugs, at moments of celebration and moments of distress. Do we know why they matter so much and make us feel so comforted, safe and refueled? Recent research describes the roots of our dependence on hugs in terms of early attachment behaviors between babies and their mothers and fathers.

Babies who are securely attached are babies whose parents have been able to be available consistently enough to give their babies confidence that they will be there when needed. One of the ways that message gets transmitted is through hugs that come at the needed moment, and last long enough to allow the baby to relax safely into a happy, satisfied state of contentment.

We have talked about the importance of the emotional muscle of holding on to positive feelings, even in the face of difficulties or stress. Given that our brains reproduce the original feelings when we summon up a memory, it's important to reinforce the good feelings from good memories. Whether it's a caregiver handing over to a parent at the end of the day, or the caretaking parent greeting a partner, the first thing to talk about is the funny, or good, or pleasurable incidents during the day. Only then it is useful to you both to move on to the not-so-easy moments.

But perhaps the very first thing to do is not to talk at all, but greet your partner with a full hug that lasts until you feel each other relax. Here’s a link to a video that describes that process as part of what can make a couple’s partnership stronger:

Building parental emotional muscle is a crucial foundation for helping your child grow emotionally strong and resilient. When you know how to seek and give comfort and support, you will be able to teach your child important lessons for life. All too often children get the message that they are not supposed to have feelings, or be needy, or want comfort.

In fact people grow strong from knowing what they need and seeking it out. Emotional refueling gives us all the resources to offer empathy and help to others. Teaching your child that he or she can turn to you in need and then offer support freely to friends and family will foster a personality that others will appreciate throughout life.

Give each other a big hug first and then get on with the many tasks of the early evening — you may find that everyone dives in with a better spirit when they are refreshed by each other’s affection.

Kerry Kelly Novick is a local child, adolescent and adult psychoanalyst, and author, with Jack Novick, of "Emotional Muscle: Strong Parents, Strong Children," available at or through Check the website regularly for blogs and news of upcoming media appearances and events. Follow EMOTIONAL MUSCLE: STRONG PARENTS, STRONG CHILDREN on Facebook. She welcomes your email with comments and questions for future columns at