The Power of Touch pt. 2

Posted on: 31st July 2013

Part two of our series on the power of touch, from Body & Soul’s Head of Children’s Services, Jane. Make sure you read part one about the importance of touch to a child’s development.

Not so long ago I read about a really brutal WWII experiment in which two groups of infants were separated. The first group of babies were held, rocked and touched. The second group of babies were fed and changed but not held and touched in any other manner. The first group of babies thrived and grew into well functioning children. So many of the babies in the second group died and failed to thrive that the experiment was abandoned. This provided the scientific evidence in a manner that proved beyond reasonable doubt that babies physically need to be held and touched in a caring and loving manner in order to thrive.

More recently research has provided evidence that babies who are born with illnesses or who are having difficulty thriving do thrive if given regular massage and other forms of gentle touch. This is because touch stimulates the immune system and reduces stress which in turn supports brain development. High stress hormone levels in the brain have been found to delay cognitive development. Additional benefits are being identified frequently including:

  • enhanced attentiveness
  • a decrease in depression symptoms
  • reduced pain
  • weight gain
  • lowered anxiety
  • improved control of children’s asthma
  • improved behaviour for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • more on-task and social relatedness behaviour for children with autism

I feel a particular urgency over the importance of touch for Body & Soul’s younger members as research from 2005 found ‘one-quarter of HIV-infected parents avoided common physical interactions with their children “a lot” due to misconceived fears of transmitting HIV.’

A hug is one of the most basic ways two human beings touch. There is power in a hug. A hug can break down barriers that sometimes words cannot do. At times, it can speak more than any words can say. We bond with a hug. We find comfort with a hug. We greet and separate from each other with a hug. We establish human contact and interaction with a hug. The beauty of a hug is in its simplicity. The gesture towards another human being is easy. It costs nothing but a simple act of caring and kindness. Yet without this physical contact, our children may grow up to feel a sense of loss in terms of affection and love and not know, themselves, how to express their emotions on a physical level.

The world some of us experience can be a cold and distant place. This can often lead us to build walls around us to keep others at bay. Yet by doing so we often lose what is most important. We get caught up in battles to survive. We forget that we need to do more than just survive and exist. We need to live. I challenge us all, myself most of all, to stop hoarding our hugs and embrace life.

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