Touch communicates as nothing else can, and it is irreplaceable in our lives. Think of the times in your life when you felt most comforted and most loved, those moments involved touch.
When it comes to how much and what types of physical contact are important for a child, research offers a clear answer: young children need positive human touch, and lots of it, in all its forms-carrying, swinging, rolling, holding, a backrub, a hug, a pat, a high-five, rough-and-tumble play, even massage.
Nurturing touch from their parents and caregivers is essential for children to feel loved and secure, interactions with their peers help develop social and emotional competence.
Parents and teachers should understand that withholding touch can be just as physically and emotionally harmful to a child as sexual abuse or physical abuse such as hitting, grabbing, spanking, and shaking.
When children of any age are denied touch or when they experience it only in the context of aggression or punishment, they are deprived of the nurturing environment they need to thrive and grow.
They also will lack experiences to prepare them to discern touch that is loving and appropriate from touch that is dangerous and inappropriate and thus they are more vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
In the realm of emotional and social development, touch is critical in fostering bonding between children and their parents and other caregivers, as well as contributing to social and emotional competence.
Touch in physical and cognitive development
The physical benefits of touch begin as soon as a child is born. Newborns who experience skin-to-skin contact with their mothers soon after birth cry less, sleep longer, and have longer periods of quiet alertness, which is when most learning often occurs.
They also have higher blood sugar levels, a positive outcome in newborns. Skin-to-skin contact is also important for successful breastfeeding. Conversely, without adequate touch, infants may fail to thrive or may even die. Research has documented instances of child deaths from lack of touch.