What Research Says about Touching Your Kids

Some families are naturally touchy-feely and don’t mind sharing hugs and physical touch while others prefer to show their love in more non-physical ways, like spending time together or verbal affirmations. But there is a huge body of research that says physical touch is more important than we think.

What Research Says about Touching Your Kids

1. It is a vital part of infant growth and development.

It’s not surprising that infants thrive on sensory experiences, the main one being touch. If you’ve seen a cat with a new litter of kittens or baby birds nestled up next to their mama, you’ll observe how intrinsic it is for creatures just entering life to get close to one another.

Every living thing is born with the instinctive need for physical contact. 

According to the NCBI US National Library of Medicine, developmental delay is often seen in children who do not receive adequate or appropriate sensory stimulation, specifically touch. This study states that orphaned infants in the bleakest of conditions in Eastern Europe–babies who aren’t held and loved–exhibited impaired growth and cognitive development, as well as susceptibility to infection. 

{Above: Holding infants on our trip to an orphanage in Guatemala.}

Research suggests that these orphans aren’t suffering from maternal deprivation, but from sensory deprivation.

Bottom line: Significant evidence shows that touching your kids is vital to their physical growth and cognitive development.

2. Your brain releases certain chemicals when you experience physical touch.

A fascinating study reported by The New York Times says that our brains actually release certain chemicals when triggered by physical touch, and others are released in the absence of touch. The study was conducted on premature infants; a group of whom were left alone in their incubators and a group of whom were massaged for 15 minutes, three times a day. 

The babies who were massaged gained weight 47% faster than the ones who were left alone. They became more active and more responsive, even getting discharged from the hospital an average of six days earlier.

And it’s not just babies who’s brains respond to skin-to-skin contact. Psychology Today shares a 2013 study on the importance of human touch. Researchers in the UK found that “loving touch, characterized by a slow caress or gentle stroking plays a big part in sustaining a healthy sense of self.”

Bottom line: Make touching your kids and spouse a point daily. Free hugs to release those feel-good endorphins.

3. Touch is how we share compassion. 

Have you ever experienced a bad day that was completely transformed by a hug? Or have you had a sick child who only wants to be held? It’s because even the smallest gesture of physical touch can make us feel better.

The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley has found, after years of examining the science of touch, that physical connections are farm more important than we realize. It is a powerful language of compassion. 

“To touch can be to give life,” said Michelangelo.

Interestingly enough, we don’t touch nearly as much in the United States as in other parts of the world. In a 1960s study done by notable psychologist Sidney Jourard, he visited various parts of the world and studied conversations that two friends had over lunch. What he found was fascinating:

  • In England, the two friends touched zero times.
  • In the United States, the average was twice.
  • But in France, it was common for two friends to touch up to 110 times per hour.
  • In Puerto Rico, friends touched 180 times just during lunch together!

Bottom, bottom line: Don’t be afraid to get more touchy-feely. Physical touch is more important than you know. Touching your kids can boost their development. Hugging a friend can show compassion. And snuggling up to someone you love doesn’t just feel good, it’s good for you too.

 

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Before You Brush Them Off: Human Touch

 

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