Yes, there is a kind of magic inherent in touch, including everyday, routine physical contact such as high-fives, shoulder squeezes, and back rubs. The benefits of touch are tremendous and worth talking about.
In my adult life, I have witnessed a tremendous surge in the awareness of personal safety (i.e. appropriate versus inappropriate touch). This new consciousness appears to have led to a steep decline in the use of physical contact of any kind, especially in the school and work settings but even at home.
In my experience, both children and adults often seem uncomfortable with the idea of physical contact, most especially with physical displays of affection. In the children’s section of any library today, books on private space and personal safety abound. And for good reason. I am definitely aware of the unfortunate need to educate our children, and I don’t take the issue lightly.
But, I feel that we’ve become so afraid of using touch for fear of social and legal ramifications, that the tremendous benefits of physical contact have been lost. And I find this sad.
Safe deep-pressure touch is imperative for healthy development.
Safe deep-pressure touch provides children and teens with a tangible expression of love, safety, and security. It provides input to the nervous system that allows them to feel grounded, oriented in space, and comfortable in their bodies. It is calming, nourishing, and healing.
The literature supports the belief that many of the mental and emotional issues we confront today, including addiction and other disorders, may be related to a lack of sufficient healthy touch throughout the childhood and teenage years.
If your child does not like touch, I encourage you consider occupational therapy to promote development of sensory integration. Physical touch is truly an important part of growing up into a physically and emotionally healthy teenager and adult.
You may have heard of kangaroo-care—that is, skin-to-skin contact of a premature infant and parent for extended periods of time.
The research indicates that this is not only a safe practice, but has tremendous benefits.
According to the work of Feldman and colleagues (2002), kangaroo-care was found to have “had a significant positive impact on the infant’s perceptual-cognitive and motor development and on the parenting process.”
There’s no reason that the principles of kangaroo-care can’t be applied to healthy infants and older children, too.
Here are some suggestions to use with your child or teen. You can aim for incorporating at least one a day, making necessary adjustments to accommodate your child’s comfort level.
- Hold your child close to you in a firm hug
- Massage your child’s shoulders
- Hold your child’s face between your hands when you talk to him or her
- Hold your child’s hand when you go for a walk. Even an older kid who doesn’t need a hand held for safety reasons
- When putting your child to sleep, place pressure on his or her shoulders and hips in the side-lying position
Think about how comfortable you feel with physical touch (giving and receiving)? And why do you think that’s the case?