The magic of touch and how you can harness it’s power in your parenting

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I wasn’t really a difficult teenager – at least that’s how I remember it . But , like all teenagers I was finding myself in this world , and experiencing plenty of frustration.

After one explosive argument with my mother , I came to her with my tail between my legs , ‘I just don’t know why some days are just so hard!’. I was out of balance , but unaware ,yet, of how that affects me.

My mother and I brainstormed for a while, and do you know what we discovered?Just a hug a day could completely transform my disposition , restore balance , and as if by magic ,make all right in my world.

Since making this discovery and noticing it to be true time and time again ,I became fascinated by the restorative properties of touch.

Psychologist Matthew Hertenstein, PhD, director of the Touch and Emotion Lab at DePauw University says  “Most of us, need more human contact than we’re getting,”  “Compared with other cultures, we live in a touch-phobic society that’s made affection with anyone but loved ones taboo.”

“A hug, pat on the back, and even a friendly handshake are processed by the reward centre in the central nervous system, which is why they can have a powerful impact on the human psyche, making us feel happiness and joy,” explains neurologist Shekar Raman, MD, based in Richmond, Virginia. “And it doesn’t matter if you’re the toucher or touchee. The more you connect with others—on even the smallest physical level—the happier you’ll be.”

When my son was born he really underlined the importance of touch. Kevin was , what Dr Sears would refer to as , a ‘high – needs baby’. But , touch is important for ALL babies!

  1. Touch is Calming and Stimulating: One of the first ways we relate to our babies is through touch. Certain types of touch calm our babies and other types of touch alert them. Deep and even pressure, such as a massage is calming, while light tickling is alerting. Giving your baby a variety of touch experiences will enable them to process touch sensation and respond appropriately rather than over- or under- responding.
  2. Touch Teaches Babies about their Bodies: Ever notice how newborn babies move their arms and legs randomly, and often in a jerky manner? They’ve not learned how their body parts are connected or how to control them yet. As babies develop they gain control over the different parts of their bodies and move them in an increasingly fluid way. Ultimately they turn into toddlers and preschoolers who have mastered their gross motor skills. As babies are handled and stroked they learn where their knees are in relation to their feet and how their hands are connected to their arms.
  3. Touch Tells Babies about Proximity: As a babies experience touch, they begin to understand where their body ends and mother’s starts. This allows a child to sense how close or far away people are.  Just as I am working on  learning the size and boundaries of the car as I learn to drive , a baby needs tactile experiences to learn the boundaries of their bodies .

Holding and carrying our babies and toddlers is a great way to enjoy physical contact with them. Babywearing, with an ergonomically designed baby carrier , makes carrying your baby easier too. As it spreads the baby’s weight evenly across your hips and back , making it possible to carry your baby comfortably for longer.

Dr Sear’s lists the benefits of babywearing on his website Askdrsears.com.

1. Sling babies cry less.

Certainly in my experience I’ve found this to be true , just as I need a hug a day , so too have each of my babies. In particular, I’ve noticed, the longer my baby spends been worn in a carrier each day the happier and more sociable they are , and the sounder they sleep both for naps and at night. I’ve no doubt babywearing plays a huge role in balancing my children.

2. Sling babies learn more.

When babies are held close ,they ,like the rest of us , feel safer and more secure. A secure relaxed baby isn’t wasting precious energy crying or fussing.They don’t need to learn to ‘self sooth’ and so they learn other things! Held up at your chest (close enough to kiss) they watch your mouth move as you chat and hear you easily. With them so close, you’ll find it easier, to respond to their babbles.

I was fully convinced my 6 month old son was talking when Simon(my husband) kindly pointed out I was the only one who understood his ‘words’! He did go on to have a string of words, that were easily understood by anyone who would listen, by 9 months old ,which I feel justified in attributing to babywearing. Dr Sears explains ” I have noticed that sling babies seem more attentive, clicking into adult conversations as if they were part of it. Babywearing enhances speech development. Because baby is up at voice and eye level, he is more involved in conversations. He learns a valuable speech lesson – the ability to listen.”

Carried babies see what you’re seeing at your level, which makes it so much easier for them to follow your processes and go on to mimic your behaviour.

A baby lying alone in a bassinet or on a blanket, might feel frightened by the bang of a door slamming shut or even the hum of the vacuum cleaner but if that baby is worn, these sounds have learning value. Baby trusts that you will respond appropriately if something is dangerous for them. Being close to you helps your baby feel safe and secure when exposed to unfamiliar sounds and experiences . They don’t waste time concerned with insecurities and instead focus all that energy on learning about their environment, and social behaviours.

 

3. Sling babies are more organised.

Dr Sears explains it best on his website , when he says “It’s easier to understand the benefits of babywearing when you think of a baby’s gestation as lasting eighteen months – nine months inside the womb and at least nine more months outside. The womb environment automatically regulates baby’s systems. Birth temporarily disrupts this organisation. The more quickly, however, baby gets outside help with organising these systems, the more easily he adapts to the puzzle of life outside the womb.”

So, since all human babies are born so much more vulnerable than babies from other species, it’s been found that carrying your baby gives them the opportunity to continue developing with the same emotional security they experienced in the womb. “The benefits of babywearing “remind” the baby of and continues the motion and balance he enjoyed in the womb.” says Dr Sears.

You’ll notice your baby is feeling unorganised if they develop what Dr Sears calls “disorganised patterns of behaviour” . This includes colicky cries, jerky movements, self-rocking , anxious thumb sucking, irregular breathing, and disturbed sleep.It may help if you give babywearing a try , or simply become more mindful about how often and for how long you hold your baby. Spend more time skin to skin , or perhaps try a baby massage class to increase the amount of positive physical touch your baby experiences.

Studies have shown that massaging a baby can reduce crying and fussiness, help them sleep more peacefully, and alleviate common ailments like constipation and colic. It’s been said that it even boosts your baby’s ability to fight off germs!

Research into physical affection notes that positive touch has measurable health benefits. “Stimulating touch receptors under the skin can lower blood pressure and cortisol levels, effectively reducing stress,” Hertenstein says.

Being aware of the benefits of touch can help us to be more conscious and deliberate in the way we use the power of touch in our parenting.When it comes to touch, awareness is key ,if you are distracted, you and your child will be less likely to reap the stress-reducing rewards.Being mindful with our touch can lead you to seeing every physical embrace with your child for the gift that it is and reminds us to linger there a little longer. For both your child’s sake – and your own!

 

 

 

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