Physical Contact

By Georgia Argyle

As our children are born they leave a world in which they have been completely embraced by our physicality, where they are ‘held’ 24 hours a day for many months. That all encompassing touch is vital to the wellbeing of the child long after they are born contributing to their emotional, physical, psychological and social well being. As children grow older their need for touch diminishes in quantity but the need for touch remains throughout life. We depend upon touch as clearly as we depend upon food and water and the consequences of lack are equally dire.

From birth onwards we require touch to provide us with feedback about ourselves and the world in which we live. The quality of touch we receive informs us about our environment, the people who care for us and what we can expect now and in the future. A loving hand caressing a baby’s belly as she is being washed conveys love, nurturing and respect; the baby knows she is safe and can relax in that knowledge. Holding the baby or child while she cries, rages, laughs, and rests tells the child that all parts of her being are loved and valued and that she will be cared for and responded to in a way that helps her grow into a healthy adult. (See the Attachment Parenting website for more information.)

This instinctive caring of our children, by holding them, massaging them and gently washing their bodies, meets a cultural road block as the child ages. In western society we have forgotten how to touch each other as friends, coworkers, parents, siblings and fellow humans. Touch has been reserved for the bedroom and an expensive monthly massage rather than remaining part of our daily interactions with one another. Yet our children continue to require nurturing touch for the healthy growth and development of their entire being. Touch helps develop the brain, physical growth, emotional intelligence, compassion, empathy, connection and much more. So how do we continue to give our children the benefits of touch in a society that has sexualized all touch and where the dangers of inappropriate touch are very real?

I believe the answer lies in developing a healthy attitude about touch within yourself and your family. Explore your beliefs, fears and judgements around touch and seek a new understanding of the importance of touch in all of our lives. From this point, you can create nurturing touch within your family that supports healthy growth while honouring the always changing needs of every family member. As your child grows she will move away from you naturally seeking more independence as she explores her environment but you remain her touchstone, the place she returns to for safety and security. You can foster a healthy attitude around touch by snuggling with your child while you read, placing a hand on her shoulder as you speak, offering hugs as needed and providing a nurturing back rub in the evening. This contact strengthens bonds, reduces stress and provides space for caring and connection. Teaching our children about the importance of touch includes relearning it ourselves and modeling caring through healthy touch with the people we care for.

Touch is a basic human need that in our Western culture goes largely unmet. Without touch both people and animals lose their connection with themselves and others around them. Neurotic behaviours develop within the individual as they suffer from the effects of physical isolation. We are social beings and our survival depends upon the continued connection with one another including the connections and communication forged through touch. Make an effort today to reach out to your family, literally and watch the difference in your interactions; notice if you are able to enjoy and appreciate one another more. The benefits of regular human touch are infinite and I would love to see our community reconnect with this important part of human interaction.

Georgia Argyle is a regular contributor on the website.