Nurturing touch: An essential prescription for good social emotional health

Touch is one way to reconnect in today’s busy lifestyle.

Take a minute to think about how you can use touch to show how you care for the people in your life. Photo credit: Pixabay.

Take a minute to think about how you can use touch to show how you care for the people in your life. Photo credit: Pixabay.

Mothers know it instinctively when they pick up their crying infant. Teachers have seen how a pat on the back or a hand placed gently on an arm can encourage a child who is distressed. Medical personnel have reported improved healing through touch therapy. The power of touch should not be underestimated.                                

In nurturing relationships, touch happens in a natural way; snuggling a baby, sharing a hug with a toddler, holding hands with a preschooler on the way to the bus stop, or rubbing the shoulders of an aging parent or patient. The importance of touch to a human being is easily seen through observation of the human body. Skin is our largest sensory organ; covering the entire body. Every part of your body is able to gather information through touch and it is how we primarily interact within our environment. Touching something to discover how it feels is how we learn to differentiate between hot and cold, soft and firm. Touch can make us feel safe or frighten us. It can tell us that we are loved or unloved.

According to the Touch Research Institute, something as easy and accessible as basic massage can:

  • Facilitate weight gain in preterm infants
  • Enhance attentiveness
  • Alleviate depressive symptoms
  • Reduce pain
  • Reduce stress hormones
  • Improve immune function and healing

Touch has been shown to help reduce pain, anxiety, depression and aggressive behavior; lowering heart rate and blood pressure.

Michigan State University Extension recognizes that physical contact (everyday touching of others) is critical for healthy development. It is easy in today’s fast paced, technology driven world to forget how important “touch” is to our everyday relationships. It is not unusual today for children to be given a book that can read itself; games are played alone on a lap-top device with someone in another room, city, or state; and senior citizens often live alone. Families are traveling in vehicles where children are watching movies, playing video games or listening to personal music choices. Face-to-face communication that often involves a handshake, touch of an arm or a high five has been pushed aside for email and social media contacts.

When we lack touch we lose interaction within our environment. The loss of nurturing touch can induce stress and even anger. In the aging process touch may be more important than ever before. Hearing, vision and the sense of taste often decline, but the sense of touch remains constant. Many elderly people experience the loss of spouses and close friends, grandchildren are grown and aren’t sitting on your lap, and a loss of mobility may restrict former hello and good-bye hugs.

Take a minute today to think how you can use touch to show how you care for the people in your life. Hold your children on your lap for a bedtime story. Put a hand on the shoulder of a friend to let them know you understand. Hold the hand of an elderly relative when you visit and reminisce. Share a foot massage with a loved one. You may even want to try dancing where you touch your partner!

Nurturing touch doesn’t cost anything. It doesn’t require a prescription. It does take time. Make time today to reach out and let someone know that you care about them through a gentle touch. For more information explore local programs that teach nurturing practices for parents and caregivers at http://www.extension.org.

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