We have long been taught that holding our babies is good for them. We are taught to meet our baby’s needs and show them warmth. Unfortunately, that physical touch often stops when our children outgrow infancy and toddlerhood. Touch is often considered inappropriate past a certain age, and especially with certain genders or social situations.
Some believe that too much touch will make a boy “soft” or that it is inappropriate for girls once they enter puberty. Parents need to be cautious to continue to show affection to all children at all ages. Girls need to know their bodies are beautiful and not to be ashamed. Boys need to know that physical affection is not weak, but is actually healthy. We are mammals who were created for connection. But we need to be cautious of our child’s personal space and respectful of them. Finding this balance will depend on individual personalities and family life.
Research shows that holding babies and continuing to show our love and affection to our children through physical touch throughout their childhood is an important part of their development and well-being.
As parents, we have the opportunity to use physical touch as a means of showing love. For some kids, this affection is the key to us showing them we love them. Physical affection is what drives them, it is what makes them know you love them. For other kids, physical touch isn’t as strong of a need, but generally, most kids need to have their parents show love through touch and affection.
There has even been research to back these claims on the importance of physical touch and parental warmth. These studies have shown that parental warmth and loving touch leads to more adult happiness when the child grows up. Longitudinal studies have found that babies and children who were part of physically affectionate families and were raised in warm environments had lower levels of emotional distress, hostility, and difficulty in social situations. Additionally, children who receive lots of physical attention typically have lower levels of depression and anxiety, have high self-esteems, and do well with friends and in school. There is also research that says parental warmth can help prevent abuse.
Affection is a key way to communicate unconditional love and fill our child’s love tank. This is important when we need to discipline our child or are wanting to ensure we have a strong attachment with them. All the parenting skills in the world will not matter if our child does not feel loved by us, attached to us, and secure with us. When they are securely attached to us, they are more likely to take our influence and guidance.
Perhaps one of the easiest ways to show love to our children is hugging them, scratching their backs, holding hands, or making eye contact. Many humans crave physical loving touches. A 30-second hug, or taking the time to stop what you are doing to make eye contact, or just a sweet pat on the shoulder can show your child you love them. How we interact with our children when they are young helps them develop social skills and sets up their relationships as adults.
For many parents, touch can be uncomfortable. Find ways you can show physical love that is comfortable for both you and your child. Not all kids are huggers and kisses, but maybe they would benefit from more high-fives or pats on the back. Some kids are big on touch, while the parent isn’t used to showing that kind of affection. As their parent, sometimes we need to find ways to be comfortable in the uncomfortable if it will benefit our child. Make an effort, and make the time, to show your child you love them.
Here are a few reasons physical touch is so important:
- Release of oxytocin, the love hormone responsible for bonding
- Better parent child communication
- Lower levels of depression and anxiety
- Emotional health as an adult
- Helps develop healthy self-image
- Helps develop social skills
- Sets up adult relationships
- Communicates unconditional love
- Important for emotional development
- Fewer behavioral problems
- Children often do better in school
Here are a few ideas on how to increase loving physical touch:
- Be warm, inviting, caring, empathetic
- Hugs, kisses, bear hugs, family hugs
- Pats on the back or shoulder
- Wrestling, rough and tumble play
- High fives
- Scratching backs or heads
- Sitting close while reading or watching TV
- Always greet or say goodbye with some kind of touch
- Hold hands
- Back or foot rub
By: Emily Scott, PhD
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