A Hug a Day
After seeing a boy respond to his mother’s yells by crawling under the table in a McDonald’s, Ruth Balmaceda quietly turned the incident into a teachable moment.
“I didn’t want to confront her, so I turned my back to her so she could see my shirt,” she said.
“Have you hugged your child today?” the shirt read.
“The mother smiled at me, and I felt like I accomplished my goal.”
Balmaceda’s goal, and that of volunteers on the Lancaster Best Start team, was to use the “Have you hugged your child today?” campaign to encourage bonding between parents and children, and raise awareness about child abuse in the community.
“What better way to show affection and love than to hug your kid?” said Omar De Leon, one of the campaign’s organizers and a father of four.
The educational campaign took place in April, May and June and used a multi-pronged approached to getting the word out about the benefits of hugging.
Five billboards that read “Got hugs?” and “Have you hugged your child today?” were erected along major streets throughout Lancaster. Best Start participants and organizers shared information about the campaign and gave 500 “Have you hugged your child today?” t-shirts to attendees at the annual Poppy Festival.
In addition, about a dozen Best Start parents and adults attended the 7th Annual Darion Wheat Walk Against Child Abuse in Lancaster in April.
For the organizers, hugging was the easiest way to demonstrate the value of positive reinforcement; a 10-second embrace has been shown to reduce stress and blood pressure, and increase calm and a feeling of comfort.
The campaign was created in response to the growing child abuse problem in the Antelope Valley: In 2010, cases were three-and-a-half times more likely to be reported there than any place in Los Angeles County.
“Parents have to reassure children that even when they do something wrong, they are loved,” said Margarita Bradley-Aguilar, a campaign organizer who brought the message of hugging’s importance to parents at Head Start in Palmdale where she works. “Hugging is very positive.”
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