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Beyond Hugs: How to Incorporate More Loving Touch Into Your Kids’ Day

A recent picture of Victoria Beckham kissing her daughter Harper on the lips was criticized by many for being far too intimate an act.

Scores of Instagram comments suggested the kiss was inappropriate. How on earth have we become such a touch-phobic society when all the evidence suggests that humans are hardwired for physical intimacy?

The Case for Loving Touch

  • Loving touch boosts cooperation in relationships with more trust and reciprocity between those who physically interact more.
  • Touch is a vital part of the way humans communicate – studies show we feel sympathy, love, joy, and gratitude through touch.
  • Loving touch has a plethora of physical benefits with some studies showing increased survival rates of patients with complex diseases who were given touch therapy.
  • There also seems to be some emerging evidence that supportive touch enhances our abilities. A study of the sporting world found that teams that touched more, though celebratory high fives and encouraging fist bumps, were significantly more successful.
  • There is evidence to suggest that touch promotes happiness and can act as a antidote to depression.
  • Engaging our children in healthy touch, and clear communication about “good touch/bad touch,” is part of the armory for sexual abuse prevention. One of the primary reasons the reaction to Victoria and Harper’s kiss is so alarming is that this sort of healthy, loving touch is actually a key part of raising kids who are more protected from toxic touching.

I have a very busy five-year-old. She is fiercely independent, ambitious, curious, and so socially driven that at a BBQ last weekend, the only time I saw her was a glimpse of her hand reaching through the crowd to grab a scorched burger from the food table. This means that she’ll quite often hit a wall and either slump or explode because she’s running on empty. I need to consciously make sure I am refilling her cup.

When done consensually and with the clear permission of the child, loving touches can boost happiness, health, and resilience in our children.

Here are 10 ways I squeeze more physical contact in to our day:

1 | Fist bumps

We have our own special one. I think Ramona picked it up from a playground, but we’ve made it our own. We bump fists, wave our hands, and say “High Five, Dolphin Dive.” We do it several times an hour just to remind ourselves that we’re awesome.

2 | Hand catching

My dad used to keep me entertained with this in boring church services and now I keep my kids occupied like this in an equally quiet place. I open my palm and they have to poke it. I’m not allowed to move my hand but I have to try and grasp theirs. Such fun. Can end in very loud giggles though, so be warned.

3 | Nose rubbing

Here in New Zealand there’s a traditional Maori greeting, a Hongi, where greeters press their noses together. The sentiment is beautiful – it’s about sharing breath with one another. Sometimes my kids and I press our noses together and try to sync our breathing.

4 | Listen to body noises

My children put their heads on my heart or my belly and listen to the thump and gurgle. I return the great favor.

5 | Shoulder massage

My daughter loves watching films. Often we’ve seen them 73,7800 times (approximately), so I’m not that piqued by the storyline any more. So I take the opportunity to give her a shoulder massage. It’s one way to connect with her when she’s doing something potentially quite isolating.

6 | The Arm Game

I’m sorry, I can’t think what to call this, but it results in great laughs. One person bares an arm and closes their eyes. The other person walks two fingers up from the first person’s wrist to their shoulder. The first person has to shout when they believe the person has reached the crease by their elbow. It’s impossible! And so fun!

7 | Mimic animals

My daughter is going through a big penguin phase. These days I just have to say, “Want to connect like a penguin?” and we do this really subtle Penguin Dance, by facing tummy to tummy and swooping our necks. This would be an awesome one for any kid into animals. (Like, every kid, am I right?)

8 | Rough housing

We face each other on our knees and have to pin each other down. I’m amazing at this! Literally get my five-year-old down every time! (I jest, I jest. Every so often I let her pin me.)

9 | Body measurements

Every so often we check how much their hands and feet have grown. We place our palms together, and then our feet. Sometimes our ears and chins and bellies.

10 | Bathe together

I love taking a bath with my kids. Sometimes I even take a book in and say “I’m going to read for 10 minutes and after that we will play” – everyone is a winner! Once we get playing we end up all up in each other’s grills. It’s a great, natural opportunity to talk about what bits of our bodies are private and aren’t to be touched by anyone.

Victoria Beckham understands that loving touch is to our children what the sun is to a flower. Held by us, kissed by us, caressed by us, our children bloom and grow.

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