Let’s talk about touching our children.
Touch is a vital human need.
It reassures, comforts, consoles, breaks down barriers, expresses love ..... I could go on.
So why does it sound a bit creepy? The word touch has become contaminated by media portrayals of inappropriate touching. It has made it sound wrong when it fact it is so right.
I purposefully use the word touch rather than hug or cuddle because touch takes on so many forms. It might be simply resting a hand on your child’s shoulder or head, gently stroking their back, holding hands or having a full on squeeze –you-until-you-burst cuddle.
As they grow the nature of touch within families will shift and change but it does not make it any less important.
I read a statistic last year which went along the lines of a newborn baby is touched 90% of the day whereas as 7 year old is touched 3 % of the day. (If anyone knows the source of this please let me know as I cannot find it!) This made me sad. I have a 7 year old.
Touch will decrease as children grow; this is inevitable and also right. Parents and children spend more time apart and they need to develop their own independence. But is so important that touch is maintained when the opportunity presents itself.
As I came downstairs this morning, the first thing my 7-year-old son said was ‘can I have a hug?!’ I was also clambered on by his 2 year old brother too and a territory war over my lap was soon in full swing. But I am glad. I relish these opportunities to cuddle him as that statistic plays on my mind.
My 5 year old daughter was repeatedly crying in her sleep last night. What soothed and settled her? Me talking to her softly and stroking her hair. She needed some physical contact to be reassured and sleep more soundly.
Why am I saying this? I’ll explain (in a bit of a roundabout way). As well as heading up The Positive Family Academy I also run my own business teaching Hypnobirthing (I have a chequered past .. bin man, History teacher .. Hypnobirthing teacher). All three of my children were born using Hypnobirthing techniques. A huge part of Hypnobirthing encourages touch. Women need to feel safe when they birth; loved, protected. Touch encourages and boosts the hormone Oxytocin. Oxytocin is the hormone we produce at times of love and its importance cannot be underestimated. If this hormone is encouraged and nurtured it can be a game changer when it comes to birth.
On my course I teach birth partners a number of techniques using touch. One of the best is soft-touch massage. This is a brilliant way of relieving pain and boosting oxytocin.
If we use touch during birth to soothe and calm and then spend the majority of the day (and night!) comforting our newborns through touch it highlights the importance of it. How we must not stop the physical connection as our children grow. In fact we need to make sure we create time for it because it helps maintain the bond between parent and child.
When I launched The Positive Family Academy in January, the first family workshops we created were on Family Massage. This raised a few eyebrows amongst people I spoke to about it. I was told ‘That was a brave choice’ and it was suggested to me that it was a bit ‘alternative’ for a first workshop. Perhaps it was a bit left-field but I wanted it to lay the foundation for what was come.
The whole ethos behind The PFA is about creating opportunities for families to make positive changes to family life. The workshops are designed to be really fun but also to leave a lasting impact and be used over and over again.
To me, Family Massage is providing this. It is tapping into an area – touch – that can easily be neglected and not made time for within family life. Learning how to massage your children is a brilliant tool. It calms and soothes them. It reduces stress and tension. It is fun.
I stroke my children at bedtime. They call this ‘night time tickles’. There is nothing tricky here – it is just stroking their back while they settle to sleep. I now also regularly give them a little scalp, back or foot massage. They love it. It gives us a chance to have a chat and unwind at the end of the day. It has made bedtimes a whole lot more special.
So what is my message here? Let’s reclaim touch and make it positive. Look for the small opportunities to make contact with your children – a chance to hold hands, pop them on your lap and give them a squeeze. Enjoy it. Let’s beat the (half-remembered but still impactful) statistic.