Hugs: Your Child Craves Them

Physical touch is vital for your child's well-being.

Posted Dec 15, 2019

Ingram Publishing (ingimage)
Source: Ingram Publishing (ingimage)

Many long for the presence of caring touch in their daily life and its absence can cause loneliness, insecurity, and stress. Caring touch is of great importance to your mental and physical well-being, and I urge you to be more intentional about hugging, massaging, tickling, and snuggling.

The Overlooked Human Need

All people have a fundamental need for closeness and caring touch to feel good both mentally and physically. When you are affectionately touched and cared for by another human being that you feel comfortable with, it releases the hormone oxytocin, which relieves stress and helps you feel more social. Lack of touch, on the other hand, can lead to a condition known as skin hunger. Unfortunately, it is something children today experience too.

If your children are not touched, they can get into a deficit state that can lead to negative mental health as well as show up as psychosomatic symptoms. These symptoms could include a headache, abdominal pain, anxiety, and sadness, to name a few. It is no secret that the number of children and young adults on prescriptions for anti-depressants has risen. The number of children referred to psychiatric treatment has also increased. These alarming figures support my assessment that there is a clear need for change. One way to start small is to focus more on caring touch.

As a child, I remember the feeling of missing something that I didn't have words to express. My mom is not a hugger and while I didn't get a lot of caring touches, she was great at tickling my back and massaging my feet. Every time I visited my father he would always hug me for a long time. Despite trying to escape even though I loved it, I am more than grateful to him for his persistence when showing me affection. When I became a mother, I intuitively knew that caring touch was necessary for my health and growth and therefore of great significance for my children.

I have continuously put effort into raising my children with a lot of hugging, massaging, tickling, and snuggling. I made a conscious choice early on to provide them with a feeling that their bodies should be an equal part of who they were and that their entire being deserved to be fully embraced in the most natural way. The gift of this spoke for itself, as they felt relaxed and fulfilled after a moment of caring touch. They are teenagers now and they still come to me for a mothering touch. As a bonus, I actually receive a significant amount of oxytocin myself, but that isn't why I do it.

I am far from the only one who has experienced skin hunger. Many Danes would like to be cared for or touched more in a loving and caring way. A survey conducted by YouGov for 'Samvirke' shows that 1 in 6 (16%) confirm that they miss a great deal of caring touch in everyday life. Additionally, almost 23% responded that they, to some extent, lack a caring touch. Maybe Denmark, voted the happiest country in the world for more than 40 consecutive years, is different from other countries, but I genuinely don't believe so. I have asked friends and business partners from abroad, and they all tell me that the lack of caring touch is a tendency they also experience.

Asking Permission and Showing Respect

In a society that values accomplishments and success, human touch is even more vital. The expectations of our children have never been higher and scary things happen every day. With the challenges of contemporary life, many parents and children whose schedules are dominated by activities, schoolwork, and practically no downtime, we easily miss a fundamental basic need: caring touch. We often seem distanced and disconnected.

Now, especially with the #metoo movement, I fear that the lack of caring touch and skin hunger will grow even more significant, as many people want to be more physically caring, but are scared of being judged or misunderstood because their signals can be perceived as something sexual. I want to stress that the caring touch I am talking about has nothing to do with sex. Yet, the sexual aspect can put a stick in the wheel of caring touches. How can we find a balance? And how can we teach our children that caring touch is necessary and lovely and comforting and not ugly and scary or terrible? 

I believe the key to this is respect. And of course, having the ability to read nonverbal communication properly matters, too. So if a child says 'NO,' turns his or her head, or walks away, it means they do not wish to receive caring touches. That should be common sense. The key is to always ask for permission and allow the child to consent to touch. If there's no interest, then leave it again. Remember that it should never be your need for caring touch that your child should fulfill, but only an optional offer from you to your child.

One Step for Changing the World for the Better

I am a big fan of hugging and I genuinely believe that we would have a better life if we dared to touch each other a bit more. The hormone oxytocin makes us feel more connected to each other, which in the hustle and bustle of life seems beneficial. We need to combat skin hunger, and we must teach our children how to be around others in a kind, caring, and healthy way with mental, physical, and spiritual comfort. It is a bold decision that must be carried out with integrity and respect. Still, the way it can help activate the anti-stress system and release of oxytocin speaks its own language.

  1. Children are different, and therefore it is essential to first find out how your child feels about being touched. Respect your child's boundaries and always ask permission.
  2. Give warm bear hugs and make sure you mean them. It only takes one-fifth of a second to activate the areas of the brain that give the child a feeling of being deeply loved. A hug that comes from the heart means everything.
  3. Teach the "underwear rule." It means, in all its simplicity, that the places that are covered in underwear are areas that no others must touch. That way, it becomes more concrete for the child, and they know where the limit goes for transgressive behavior. Don't be afraid that ordinary touches are too much. Getting cuddled, tickled, massaged, hugged, and so on are healthy and necessary for the child and for you.
  4. Kids love routines. Therefore, try to find a model that works for you and your family. 
  5. Breathe deeply. Use those quiet moments together to practice deep breaths (5 to 10 are enough). If your child likes to be tickled gently in the face, try massaging the jaw gently. In the jaw there are many tensions that make it challenging to breathe deeply if not relaxed. Try it on yourself first, so you know how little it takes before it can feel sore.

If you feel caring touch is essential, but don't have anyone around who you can respectfully touch, there are other ways to give the oxytocin effect to yourself. These may include: 

  • Take a hot shower or tub and enjoy the water's pressure against your skin.
  • Soak in the sun and let its warm rays caress your body.
  • Take a swim and feel the water envelope you.
  • Treat yourself to a professional massage.
  • Get a dog or other pet that you can touch.

References

Sandahl, I. & Zobel, S. (2018). Det gør ondt i maven, mor. Gyldendal, Denmark.