According to the book Touch, by Tiffany Fields, “touch” is our most social sense. It requires interaction with others. It prompts connection. And it is a vital component to our health. Without a parent’s touch, it is likely a baby will not develop appropriately. Infants who don’t receive the nurturing touch of a caregiver may experience a “failure to thrive”.
Early 1900 teachings of a well-known pediatrician (Dr. Luther Emmett Holt) who preached “hands-off” parenting, led to years of touch-deprivation for many children. We know differently now, yet we sadly continue to live in a society where touch can be misinterpreted and even discouraged. Our daily lives have increasingly become one of disconnect. This internet stuff is great…when it isn’t anymore. Human contact has been reduced to text messaging and social media. Time to simply be still with our children is stretched as we hurry off to the next big activity.
When my children were babies, my mother told me that you can’t spoil a baby. So, I didn’t hesitate to carry my children in a sling or Baby Bjorn all day. They had constant contact with me. But as they got older, this influx of touch decreased. They became mobile. They learned how to walk. They learned how to run. Snuggly hugs became fewer. The school years began. And yet, the need for touch remained just as important as it did when they were infants. Enter massage! Massage has allowed my family to reconnect and has integrated much-needed touch into my children’s lives.
So what are the implications of a touch-less society? According to Fields, side-effects of touch deprivation include physical violence, sleep disturbances, suppressed immunity and growth deprivation. In fact, in “touch societies” where touch is accepted, welcomed, and part of daily life, adult aggression is low. A study measuring adolescents in a psychiatric treatment center who were given half an hour of massage per day for one week found that their depression and anxiety decreased, as did the stress hormones cortisol and norepinephrine. We live in a culture where mental illness is at an all-time high. Isn’t it possible touch deprivation could be a contributing factor?
On a similar note, before the pharmaceutical days, touch used to be a part of “medicine”. And it still can be. That is why Touch Medicine 4 Kids was created. Touch is a natural medicine and once you’ve learned the skills you need to give your child comforting massage, you will have a life-long approach for helping him or her through the many stages of life. Massage is a conduit for relationship, connection and health. And healthy families are happy families!