In the first of two posts, our Head of Children’s Services, Jane talks about how important touch is to our children’s development. For further reading, take a look at another blog about the positive effects of touch.
Last Tuesday I found myself in a moment of calm at the beginning of the evening and looked around to see how everyone was occupying themselves. Tucked quietly at one of the tables was Marion, a wonderful long serving volunteer who gives head and shoulder massages to members on a Tuesday and Thursday. As is often the case, she had sneaked in to offer her services to any children interested and had gathered around her a group of 4 or 5 of varying ages patiently waiting for a turn with her ‘magic’ fingers. Watching the children relax and enjoy the moment, and seeing how the effects of that continued throughout the evening for many of them, I started to think about how current lifestyles are contributing to a lack of nurturing touch in our lives today.
Computers, gadgets, TV and hectic schedules with many activities potentially lessen opportunities for those moments where we can exchange a simple loving touch. Personally, that’s enough of a reason to wish life for children was a little less busy and regimented but much research has shown the emotional, physical and developmental benefits of touch. Equally important is the fact that there is a growing weight of research that shows a measurable negative impact from touch deprivation.
Human beings thrive on touch and often languish without it. We’re social creatures. The simple act of hugging can lift a person and make them feel connected to someone else. When you embrace another human being, for those few moments, you have to let go of everything and focus on that hug. Children know this instinctively and will naturally seek out those willing to share a moment of connection. They give freely of themselves through their hugs whilst adults have often learnt to withhold them.
The more I thought about what I wanted people to take from this blog, the more I felt the need to express how much everyday physical contact with others is a critical component of healthy development for all children. Touch is important for building healthy attachments to parents and other caregivers and healthy attachment is in turn important for learning how to relate to others.
In social and psychological studies, researchers have found that with touch deprivation, children often grow into juveniles and adults who show tendencies toward physical violence, sleep disorders, suffer from suppressed immune systems and even show some tendencies toward impaired growth development. A child deprived of physical contact does not learn to develop and nurture a compassionate and caring side of themselves and is therefore unlikely to develop empathy for others, a regard for their community or to care about their own bodies.