You remember the newborn stage, right? When the medical professionals preached about skin-to-skin contact, or when you could calm your infant simply by picking them up? Infants crave physical touch. It’s critical to their health and emotional well-being, among other things. But here’s a secret for you:
They don’t outgrow it.
I know. America is a bit of a stand-off kind of society. We value our personal space. We don’t like little kids invading it with messy faces and grimy hands. We hold hands when we have to, and drop them when we don’t. Hot, sweaty little hands are irritating and slimy, right? And it’s just plain weird to hold hands with our teens or tweens – and they probably wouldn’t want to anyway. God forbid you actually hug them.
I’m very much a stay-out-of-my-bubble kind of person, but having kids changed that. Actually, I changed that. On purpose.
You see, I grew up in a very hands-off household. I’m not sure why my parents weren’t very physically affectionate, but they weren’t and we grew to think that was normal. I’m sure when I was little, my parents got their fair share of hugs and sloppy toddler kisses, but I eventually grew up to realize that hugs weren’t welcome. Physical contact wasn’t comfortable.
I didn’t want that for my kids. I wanted them to feel warm and comfortable. Cuddled, snuggled, and cocooned in love. Even though I’m not a physically affectionate person myself, I make an extra effort to be one for my kids.
That backfired a bit with my youngest. The Destroyer had pretty severe reflux as an infant. He didn’t sleep more than 2 hours at a time until he was 4 months old and on reflux medication. He screamed until his voice was hoarse, and I, worried and frustrated, stayed up holding him because that was the ONLY thing that helped him calm down. In fact, if it wasn’t for our insistence the doctors wouldn’t have put him on reflux medication at all, because “some babies just fuss a lot.”
Then his separation anxiety kicked in bigtime, and suddenly I was the only safe place in the entire world for him. Mr. Genius was a decent substitute, but not after the lights went out. More than once I dragged the mattress out onto the floor just so I could get some sleep. We still joke that he has “mommy radar:” the minute I lay down to sleep, he pops up screaming.
Something about snuggling up to me, hearing my heartbeat and measured breathing was enough for him to know that he was safe. I couldn’t put him in his bed after he fell asleep either: he instantly awoke and screamed in anger that I dared to abandon him.
After our car accident last fall, I started counting the times that he woke up at night and required my reassurance before he could go back to sleep. I stopped counting at 12, figuring no one would believe me.
Last night he had a bad dream and woke up screaming “mommy! mommy!” I stumbled blurry-eyed into his room, and he lifted his arms up and wailed “snuggle!” So we did.
He might be the extreme example, but all three of my children crave physical contact. They’ll slip a tanned little paw into my hand when walking to the grocery store, or run up behind me in the kitchen and give me a sneaky hug. If I sit on the sofa, they come running and pile on me, fighting over who gets to sit in my lap. When we’re reading books together, it’s difficult to even turn the page because kids are pressed up against me so tightly.
We do dance parties to music on my computer, and I’ll pick a kid up and do a slow dance with them. The tired little Destroyer laid his head down on my shoulder this morning, and the Princess clasped her hands tightly around my neck. They’ll flop all over me at the booth in the restaurant and clamber into my lap if there’s room on the bench.
They crave touch. Despite baby-wearing all three of them as infants, and doing snuggles and cuddles as toddlers, they still act as if they never get physical contact from us.
Physical contact is the one thing that calms them down, especially my sensory seekers. If the Engineer is starting to lose it, I’ll pull him up to me in a giant hug with full body contact. I’ll put my hand on his shoulder to get his attention. Those times when he literally cannot hear me, one little physical touch is enough to break him out of his concentration and get his attention. It works.
I read somewhere that a loving touch for ADHD kids was far more effective at focusing their attention than medication. I couldn’t find that article to link here, but I did find an interesting one about creating an emotional bond with your child. They need that physical contact. Our society is touch-starved – and children suffer the most. Then they grow up into adults like me, who struggle to give their children what they need the most because it doesn’t come naturally.
So the next time your kid misbehaves or feels defeated, give them a hug. A touch on the shoulder. A quick kiss on the forehead. Sometimes that’s the little push they need to feel better. To feel loved and cared for.
To little kids, words mean nothing. Actions mean everything. A hug means “I love you” and a snuggle on the couch says “I love spending time with you.”
Touch matters. Even when they’re older.