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I believe that parents instinctively know that touch is not only soothing for their children, but that it also communicates love on a profound level. A caress of the cheek, a long and deep-felt hug, or rubbing a scraped knee – certain kinds of touch tell your child that they are loved and secure.
Science has finally caught up and after years of studies have confirmed what parents have always known – that touch is so incredibly beneficial for your child’s health and well being.
According to the Massage Therapy Association of South Africa (http://www.mtasa.co.za/), “Touch and massaging have benefits (emotional as well as physical), such a sensory and muscle stimulation, relaxation, and stress management, just to name a few.”
Dr Tiffany Field, of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine (UMSM), stated in an annual meeting of the Academy of American Pediatrics, “Our research suggests that touch is as important to infants and children as eating and sleeping. Touch triggers physiological changes that help infants and children grow and develop. For example, massage can stimulate nerves in the brain which facilitate food absorption, resulting in faster weight gain. It also lowers levels of stress hormones, resulting in improved immune function.”
According to Dr Field, touch therapy involves either gently stroking or more firm deep pressure touch in three main regions of a child’s body –
1. Face, neck, head and shoulders.
2. Arms and hands.
3. Back, legs and feet.
Your child will not only benefit physically from touch but emotionally too. If you find your child is particularly insecure, clingy, unsettled or unnerved by a new event (such a new sibling, moving house, a divorce, a new school etc), touch can go a long way towards giving your child a deep sense of security and feeling of being loved. Touch is literally a direct way of tapping into your child’s subconscious and giving him a strong message of love and acceptance.
The science behind touch involves a rather unknown ‘7th sense’ called proprioception. In addition to sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste, human beings also have a vestibular sense (the sense of where you are in space – linked closely to a system in your inner ears) and a proprioceptive sense (the sense of where your body parts are in relation to each other, and a sensitivity to pressure and the experience of gravity).
This 7th Sense, proprioception, is very real and affects your emotions in the same way as other senses affect mood – for example the soothing feeling of a soft blanket to in your hands or the invigorating smell of Jasmin in the springtime.
You get much of your proprioceptive ‘input’ from your joints and muscles, which is why massage and deep pressure touch is so calming. When you swaddle a newborn baby, you are giving his whole body a deep pressure touch and feeding his proprioceptive sense in a calming way.
Now that you know the importance of touch, you can use it as a way to calm and soothe your child in moments of distress or even as an everyday tool for staying connected.
An easy way to do this is to gently, but firmly, hold and squeeze your child’s arms from their shoulders to the hands, moving slowly and symmetrically with both hands. You can do the same on from their hips to their feet. Do this slow and constant deep pressure touch for at least 5 uninterrupted minutes to make sure the message gets through.
The benefits of deep pressure touch can be immediately calming, and if regularly done, can create long term feelings of well being and security.
The good news is that you can connect with your child on this level today – so tell them that you love them through your touch.
Words: Loren Stow
when we know better… we do better
*Practica Parents: Please remember that part of being a Practica Parents involves access to the advisory service where there is a panel of experts available to answer questions on development as well as emotional and social and discipline-related questions.
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