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The Importance of Physical Affection for Children and Adults Alike

The Importance of Physical Affection for Children and Adults Alike

The significance of physical human interaction is underestimated. We take connecting through touch for granted, limiting contact to habitual and circumstantial opportunity with our intimate partners, offspring, close family and friends. We may peck our partners good morning, rush through dressing and grooming our children, greet the people closest to us with a customary hug or hand shake. We protect our personal boundaries from strangers at all costs. We reduce physical affection to a mundane necessity; a meaningless custom. In doing so we fail to acknowledge how important it is for the survival of our species; for the well being of our physical, emotional and mental health; to actually touch another human being and convey important messages that words and deeds simply don’t deliver.

Humans practice what is known as pro social behavior, which is a voluntary action that benefits another person. In her article The Science of Touch and Emotion, Maria Alvarellos from the Berkeley Science Review says:

“By engaging in acts of trust and cooperation, social groups survive. Parents and offspring form attachments, and individuals act in mutually beneficial, altruistic ways to sow trust between one another.”

Touching and physical affection is a vital part of this process of pro social behavior. Various studies have shown that the need for skin to skin contact and warmth can improve weight gain in premature babies and touch can convey a variety of complex emotions including empathy and gratitude. The simple act of touching someone has been shown to improve cognitive and emotional development, including reducing susceptibility to depression and reducing some behaviors associated with Alzheimer’s Disease. Being affectionately touched can even contribute to a stronger immune system.

Physical affection towards our children is highly promoted and encouraged, not only from a bonding perspective, but also for the promotion of development and well being. Skin to skin contact immediately after birth has been known to promote healing after such an intense experience, regardless of the complexities and unplanned events that birth sometimes entails. Kangaroo Care has been widely studied and is proven to regulate body temperature, breathing and heart rate in newborns. It promotes better sleep and more alert awake times in babies. It increases the volume and duration of lactation in new mothers and deepens a sense of connection and confidence to care for the new baby. Massaging new babies can have the same benefits and while many cultures have been doing this and passing on the knowledge for centuries, there are now also classes and workshops to advise new parents about the best way to connect with their new baby physically through touch and massage.

Showing physical affection towards our children comes very naturally to most of us. Their helpless dependence on us to fulfill their physical needs in their infancy, makes touching them a daily and necessary occurrence. It is important to be mindful and conscious of the times we can be close to our children when we aren’t just going through the mechanical motions of providing them with practical care. Holding their hands, stroking their hair, giving cuddles and kisses in abundance will not spoil them and won’t harm us. Quite the opposite. This intimacy benefits both parties and strengthens our relationships with our kinship groups.

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Physical intimacy with intimate partners and affection towards family members and close friends is also something we need to be more mindful of, to not only demonstrate the level of comfort we feel with the people closest to us, but also to convey emotions that go beyond verbally communicating.

Our sexual health is of utmost importance and having a sex positive attitude and awareness is something that is still considered taboo in many cultures. Unfortunately, the notion that sexual intercourse and connection is something to be practiced for the sole purpose of procreation can actually cause dysfunction and harm. It stunts the natural development of sexual desire and the physical need for intimacy. Scientific research shows that sexual expression between consenting adults has many health benefits. Experiencing pleasure through liberated sexual connection and sharing physical intimacy is important not only for our emotional, psychological and physical development, but it also has a global impact on birth rates, teen and unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease and population size. Education about safe, consensual and shame free sex needs to be promoted and encouraged from an early age and statistics show that countries that educate children about sex early on have lower incidences of teen and unwanted pregnancy. The evidence is abundant that where young people, particularly young girls, are educated about their bodies, their reproductive functions and rights, and their sexual freedom; this empowerment has a huge impact on the prosperity and well being of the society as a whole. It alleviates poverty and violence (particularly domestic violence), enriches the economy by promoting workplace participation, improves public health and promotes social cohesion and stability.

Distinguishing between appropriate and inappropriate touch is something that needs to be acknowledged. Depending on the culture and how well you know a person, touching need not be anymore than a gentle gesture. Touching can be significant even when limited to a pat on the arm or shoulder, a customary handshake, a kiss or two on the cheek in some cultures; to convey friendship, support or greeting. Unsolicited, overtly intrusive, unwanted and unwarranted sexual physical contact is highly inappropriate. Aggressive or condescending behavior like pushing, grabbing or patting on the head is not only offensive, but in most cases illegal. Especially when imposed on a stranger or a colleague for example.

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It is a good idea to refrain from forcing children to hug or kiss anyone, even if they are a relative. It teaches them bodily ownership and autonomy and educates them to form trusting and nurturing relationships, where physical contact evolves with consent and mutual affection rather than being imposed. Using force of any kind to bully children is never acceptable. Smacking humiliates them. It teaches them that violence is acceptable, particularly coming from someone who is bigger or has more power and authority. If they are too young to reason, they won’t understand a smack. If they are old enough to reason, then use reason! Being gentle and respectful when touching children is essential at all times. Their bodies belong to them and the dependence upon trusted custodians to care for them is a privilege that should not be abused.

Children should be taught about their body as soon as they have the capacity to understand, which is earlier than we think. We have an obligation and responsibility to teach them physical self determination and that we are there to facilitate their physical care and eventual independence. It is crucial to teach them about their body parts too; what they are called and how they function. Research shows that children who know the correct names for their genitals are less likely to be preyed upon. An abuser will not only assume that a child is more likely to accurately disclose an event of inappropriate touching, they will also fear that this child has a functional and constructive relationship with a trusted adult who will believe their story and this may be enough of a deterrent. A child that is educated about their body and the notion of privacy and physical space is also more likely to protect themselves and become less susceptible to grooming.

Physical affection is only beneficial when lovingly exchanged within the tender bounds of intimate relationships. With mutually constructive intentions, touching one another can soothe and reward us abundantly.

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Featured photo credit: Tumblr via wesharepics.info

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Diane Koopman

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Published on October 18, 2018

Reading for Kids: 17 Reasons Why It’s Important and Where to Start

Reading for Kids: 17 Reasons Why It’s Important and Where to Start

Reading is one of the most important activities that you can encourage your children to do. It’s entertaining, thought provoking, and absolutely critical to success later in life.

Being a proficient reader by the third grade is an integral factor in a child’s future success. Reading for kids is not just a fun pastime. It is the gateway to learning about other people, places, and ideas, with limitless possibilities.

Why Reading for Kids Is Important?

Develops Vocabulary and Language Skills

Before your kids are able to read on their own, it’s important to nurture a love for books early on. Reading aloud to them at a young age is a great way to promote verbal communication skills between parent and child.

As kids get older, we speak to them on a daily basis, but the vocabulary and topics that they are exposed to are limited and often repetitive. Reading books will improve your child’s vocabulary and expose them to different types of sentence structure, writing styles, and ways to express themselves.

Not only will your children’s reading comprehension improve over time, this will also have a positive effect on their writing and communication skills. For children who are bilingual or learning a second language, reading is an important component of attaining or maintaining fluency.

Encourages a Thirst for Knowledge

There are books written about any topic imaginable, many in a wide variety of reading levels.

When reading books, your kids will be introduced to a wide variety of topics, cultures, and ideas. They will realize how much knowledge is out there to be discovered and delve further into the subjects that interest them the most.

In many cases, they will be enjoying the content of the book so much that they won’t even realize they are gaining so much knowledge about a particular topic.

Increases Empathy

Children have a very narrow understanding of the world around them. This is due to the limited number of experiences that they have encountered, based on the circumstances in which they grew up.

Reading books about different types of people who have had a wide range of experiences allow kids to not only appreciate diversity but also to understand what it may be like being in someone else’s shoes.

Doing so will help them appreciate and empathize with people who have very little in common with them and help them develop into more well-rounded individuals.

The Best Form of Entertainment

In the current age, technology has become the go-to for entertainment for adults and kids. Although TV shows and kids apps like these can be a great resource for learning, books are a better choice every time.

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Rather than spending hours in front of a screen, encourage your kids to consider books as the default source of entertainment. Studies show that in families where reading was emphasized, the children are more likely to read independently and develop a passion for books in the long run.

Creates a Bond

There are multiple ways that reading creates a bond between parent and child. Starting from infancy, reading aloud promotes closeness and intimacy through spending time together and being physically close.

As your child gets older, you can continue to read aloud or read the same book separately and talk about the parts that you enjoyed the most.

Use reading as an opportunity engage and interact with your child, asking them about their thoughts on topics covered in the book or connecting the story to everyday life.

Exercises Their Brain

Reading requires more brain power than watching TV. When our kids read books, they utilize the part of their brain that deals with multi-sensory integrations, making connections between words and visual thinking.

For beginner readers, illustrations can be a useful tool to help them grasp the narrative and gain better comprehension. In the case of more advanced readers, they use their brain when gathering context clues to help them figure out words or phrases that are unfamiliar.

Reading also stimulates critical thinking, spurring kids to make connections between the book and real life and to form opinions about the story.

Improves Concentration

Reading a book requires focus and concentration, which are essential skills to work on, even for toddlers who have trouble sitting still.

Consistently reading books will help your kids practice quieting their minds and their bodies to focus on a task for a set period of time.

By taking away distractions and giving them space to read and understand, their attention spans and ability to concentration will greatly improve over time.

Sets Them up for Success in School and Life

There have been numerous studies that indicate reading books to children at an early age has a lasting effect on their success in school, which often directly correlates with success in the workplace.[1] But the benefits are not just limited to academic success.

Reading is a long-term learning experience that promotes growth, which will result in your children becoming more effective people overall – better spouses, bosses, and friends.

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Promotes Creativity and Imagination

When reading a story, our children create an image of how they perceive the story to look in their minds, using creativity and imagination. Every person sees a different image in their mind, and it may change each time the same book is read.

Reading also introduces new worlds, whether real or fictional, that we have never been a part of before. Immersing in the book allows your kids to imagine new experiences and scenarios that they never thought possible.

They will be able to bring these ideas into their play time and use their creativity to go beyond the limits brought on by their everyday lives.

Where To Start

Now that you are aware of the multitude of benefits that reading can provide for your kids, what’s the next step?

If your child has not yet developed a love for reading, it’s not too late to start.

1. Make Reading a Choice, Not a Chore

Don’t make reading a mandatory task or assigned chore. Encourage and remind your kids to read, but let them make the ultimate decision on when to read and for how long. Feeling like they are being compelled to read will inevitably take the joy out of the experience.

If you have a reluctant reader, try to figure out what the root cause of the reluctance is. If your kids are struggling with words, find a few books below their reading level to instill confidence in recognizing the words they DO know. Gradually transition to harder books until they are more eager to read voluntarily.

Another alternative is to try audiobooks. Hearing another person reading confidently is a great way to experience fluency, and they will be able to enjoy the book without having to stumble through it.

If the content is the issue, and they find reading to be boring, introduce them to different types of reading material (see below).

2. Suggest a Variety of Reading Material

Reading can come in so many forms and every type has something unique to offer the reader. If your kids are having trouble finding joy in reading, it may be because they haven’t found a genre that fits their interests.

Traditional books come in many genres, including mystery, history, biographies, fantasy, science fiction, and more. Some books are written in unique and fun styles, such as choose your own adventure books, diary novel, or epistolary novel.

If you are looking for reading material that is more visually stimulating, try a graphic novel, a magazine, or a travel book. Books are also great resources for learning a new skill. Joke books, magic books, and cook books are great examples of these.

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Don’t forget to show your kids the practical side of reading as well. Enlist their help in reading out the grocery list at the store or ask them to read recipe instructions when cooking in the kitchen together. All types of reading counts:

    3. Experience Books Firsthand

    As your kids read more books, they may start to imagine what it would be like if they were characters in the books. A great way to support their love for reading would be to help them depict their favorite parts of their book.

    Look up a recipe for butter beer (Harry Potter) or Turkish Delight (The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe) and make it together. Start planting a garden together after reading The Secret Garden.

    Another fun way to celebrate finishing a book is watching the movie interpretation of it. Seeing beloved characters come to life on screen is an easy way to enhance the enjoyment of reading.

    4. Be an Example

    You are the main person that your kids look up to. Kids love copying their parents and doing the things they observe their parents doing on a daily basis.

    Don’t just tell your kids to read often; show them by doing it yourself.[2] Actions speak louder than words.

    When you model your own love of reading and books and show them the joy it brings to your life, they will be inclined to feel the same way.

    5. Set Aside Time

    For a child with a busy schedule and so many other fun screen-filled activities to choose from, it can be difficult to purposely reserve time for reading.

    Make this decision a little easier by creating dedicated time that is just for reading. This can be just before bed, right after homework, or whatever time works best for your family’s busy schedule. This time can be used for read aloud time with your child or independent reading.

    6. Bring Books to Life

    Finding real life connections to the books that your kids are reading will extend the joy of the reading experience.

    Did your children just finish a book about life on the farm? Take them to visit a local farm and experience what they read about firsthand. Reading a book about planets and space can turn into a trip to the planetarium.

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    For a more memorable excursion, take a family trip out of the country, like visiting London after finishing the Harry Potter series.

    7. Make Books Accessible

    One of my favorite activities to do as a child was to go to the library. The vast number of books that were at my disposal made me so excited to read.

    Find a great library in your area to take your children and let them experience the magic of limitless possibility. Sign your kids up for their own library card and encourage them to take ownership of their reading adventure.

    Start a small collection of books at home so that your kids will always have books at their fingertips. Visit a bookstore, browse online, or sign up for a monthly book subscription. Getting access to new books on a regular basis will keep reading exciting and fun.

    8. Start a Book Club

    Having other people help you stay accountable is a great motivation to read more and to discover new books you may not have otherwise.

    Encourage your kids to start a book club, either with their peers or with you. Choose a book everyone would enjoy and set a deadline for getting together and discussing what each person thought of the book. The tangible due date is a great incentive to stay on track and read on a regular basis.

    The Bottom Line

    Fostering a love for reading in your kids is one of the greatest gifts you can give them.

    Reading books can transport them anywhere they could imagine, and the benefits that it provides for them in the short and long term are innumerable.

    Use these tips to actively encourage reading to be an enjoyable part of their lives, and it will be worth the effort.

    Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

    Reference

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