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Touch Matters

Dear Elizabeth,
I have two little girls, ages one and two years old. I want them to know that I love them very much, so I hug them a lot. Will this make them overly dependant on me? Should I show less physical affection?
Arlene Vasquez
Elizabeth's Tips
Elizabeth Sanchez
Elizabeth Sanchez
  • Children need nurturing touch for emotional, physical & cognitive development & health
  • Positive & respectful touch communicates love & care
  • Help children learn that they are in control of their bodies
Expert Advice
Frances Carlson
Frances Carlson
Early childhood care & education instructor
The Importance of Touch
Touch is very important to a child’s well being and encourages all areas of development.

Physical – We know that pre-term babies who are touched and caressed leave the hospital earlier and healthier than pre-term babies who are not.

Enhanced Body Awareness – Infants don’t know that their wrists are attached to their arms or that their feet are attached to their legs. Infants who are not touched have difficulty feeling boundaries. They grow up bumping into things and are clumsier than children who are touched.

Emotionally More Secure & Calmer – Touch is important for the child to help bond with his or her primary caregiver. Babies crave touch. When removed from touch, a baby will cry to reconnect with his or her primary caregiver. Studies have shown that when newborns are first placed on their mother’s stomach, they will crawl up her body. Originally, researchers thought babies were doing this to try to reach the breast for milk, but studies have shown the infants are actually craving physical contact. When given the choice between milk and physical contact, infants will choose physical contact.

Leads to Less Dependency – When children feel more secure through physical contact, they will feel more secure and be less dependent later in life. Some parents might be concerned that their children might become overly dependent because they require so much physical attention. The opposite is actually true. When a child’s needs are met, the child is less clingy and more independent. Children need touch, just like they need their nutritional needs met.

Control Over Their Own Bodies
It’s extremely important for children to know they have control over their own bodies to help prevent later victimization. Without body self-awareness, children can not determine right touch from wrong touch. A child should know that they have the right to say “no” to an adult when it comes to touching – and even to say “no” to a close family member when they don’t feel comfortable.

Discussing Touch
The discussion about touch should be ongoing from infancy. Even though the baby won’t understand what the adult is saying, it’s a good idea to talk to the baby about what you are doing to him or her physically. When changing diapers, say, “I’m going to change your diaper. The changing table is cold, but I’ll try to keep you warm as I take this diaper off of you.” They learn to connect vocabulary with sensation.

Helping Children Learn About Touch
Tell a young child – even a baby – when you are going to touch him or her. Say, “I’m going to pick you up now.” Ask permission when touching a baby. Babies who have had massages before will respond with their eyes or by gurgling. If they want a massage, they will let you know by positive excitement. If they don’t want a massage, they’ll turn away. Respect their decision not to be touched at that time.

You can also let the child participate in their own hygiene. You can say, “Why don’t you take a bath and I’ll help. I’ll wash your feet and you can wash your hands. I know it’s your body, but I’ll help you if it’s okay with you.”

Don’t force children to sit next to each other or touch each other. Allow kids in group care or group situations to determine when and how they want to be touched by other children.

Child Care Provider Comments
Laura Moller-Leon
Laura Moller-Leon
Mother of two
More than anything else, I give my children hugs. If someone gets hurt or does a good job, a hug is the best thing to give one other. Everyone feels comfortable touching each other and hugging in our family.
Diane Ferguson
Diane Ferguson
Child care provider for 3 years
At our facility, we have a minimum of three hugs a day. When they arrive in the morning, it’s very hard detaching themselves from their parents. So when they come through the door, I ask, “Can I give you a hug?” Then at nap time I ask, “Do you want Miss D to give you a hug?” Then when they’re going home, “Can you give Miss D a hug goodbye?” Throughout the day there’s various things that happen. Kids might hurt themselves and they’ll need a hug. There might be a struggle going on between the children, and we’ll need to discipline them. But after I discipline them, I give them a hug to make sure they know that what they did was incorrect, but they are still loved.
Maria Segura
Maria Segura
Grandmother of a 3-year-old
I’m a very loveable grandma. I love to hug and kiss my grandson. When we watch TV, we lie down. He loves to hug. I say, “Let’s cuddle.” Then when I see he’s uncomfortable, I say, “Are you uncomfortable?” and if he says, “Yes, Grandma," I say, “Okay” and we stop cuddling.

Baby Massage Featured Activity:
Baby Massage
Touch Matters Featured Video:
Touch Matters
Topic: Social & Emotional Development
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