by Emmelie Pickett
Touch is one of the most important vehicles for building a relationship with a child. Healthy touch can show affection, give comfort, and assurance. Loving touch not only feels good, but also produces serotonin in the brain, the body’s natural antidepressant. Intentional affectionate touch, like hugs and pats on the back, also trigger endorphins, which reduce pain and produce a sense of well-being. Furthermore, consistent healthy touch lowers cortisol, the body’s stress hormone, and stabilizes blood pressure, all while boosting creativity and one’s ability to learn.
Sadly, many children from hard places do not experience warm, sensitive touch, but may instead receive harmful touch from an abuser, or no touch at all, due to neglect. Some children may have early hospitalizations and receive necessary life-saving, yet painful procedures that can trigger an aversion to touch. While safe touch promotes a child’s overall happiness and development, a lack of touch or abusive touch can have damaging psychological and social effects.
Fortunately, incorporating healthy touch into your relationship with a child from a hard place can help make up for deficits in early life. If the child in your care is older than an infant, however, you may need to be creative about ways to integrate touch into daily life. Our staff curated this list of some of our favorite ways that caregivers can creatively weave healthy touch into daily interactions with their children.
- Give pats on the back.
- Take turns “drawing” letters on each other’s backs and guessing the letter.
- Initiate high fives.
- Help a young child wash their hands with a soap of her choosing.
- Play leap frog.
- Practice giving hugs, asking your child if they prefer a tight squeeze or a gentle squeeze.
- Make up a secret handshake.
- Have a three-legged race.
- Place temporary tattoos on one another.
- Give fist bumps/chest bumps.
- Practice finger painting.
- Give each other manicures/pedicures.
- Play Twister.
- Give the family dog a bath together.
- Play the hand “slaps” game.
- Practice fun hairstyles on each other.
- Give piggy-back rides.
- Play “thumb war.”
- Cook together.
- Give each other a “weather report” by varying touch on the other person’s back. Light sprinkling fingers may indicate rain, even lighter touch might be snow, and firm touch can be thunder.
- Paint each other’s faces.
- Offer to give a hand massage.
- Play “Miss Mary Mack” , “Down By the Banks” or other partner hand clapping games.
- Take turns putting makeup on one another.
- Play freeze tag: whoever is “it” touches other players to “freeze” them. Whoever is “it” unfreezes by touching frozen players again.
As you build trust with the children in your care, you will learn what touch they seek and avoid and can adapt accordingly. Remember that no two children are alike, and that it’s important to be mindful of your child’s history and triggers as you incorporate healthy touch. Touch should never be forced! Give your child voice by letting him take the lead and be sure to respond quickly when he uses words or non-verbal cues to tell you what he needs.
For more information on the importance of touch, check out our Healthy Touch video.
Use your words:
How do you incorporate healthy touch with the children in your care?
Teaching respectful touch with consent helps children understand their right to choose, self protect and safeguard from unwanted inappropriate touch! Ask permission, teach scripts, start young and help all children keep safe!