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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

Writer, Author, Novelist, Self-Publisher

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Published on January 30, 2019

How to Support a Working Mother as a Working Father

How to Support a Working Mother as a Working Father

In roughly 60 percent of two-parent households with children under the age of 18, both parents work full time. But who takes time off work when the kids are sick in your house? And if you are a manager, how do you react when a man says he needs time to take his baby to the pediatrician?

The sad truth is, the default in many companies and families is to value the man’s work over the woman’s—even when there is no significant difference in their professional obligations or compensation. This translates into stereotypes in the workplace that women are the primary caregivers, which can negatively impact women’s success on the job and their upward mobility.

According to a Pew Research Center analysis of long-term time-use data (1965–2011), fathers in dual-income couples devote significantly less time than mothers do to child care.[1] Dads are doing more than twice as much housework as they used to (from an average of about four hours per week to about 10 hours), but there is still a significant imbalance.

This is not just an issue between spouses; it’s a workplace culture issue. In many offices, it is still taboo for dads to openly express that they have family obligations that need their attention. In contrast, the assumption that moms will be on the front lines of any family crisis is one that runs deep.

Consider an example from my company. A few years back, one of our team members joined us for an off-site meeting soon after returning from maternity leave. Not even two hours into her trip, her husband called to say that the baby had been crying nonstop. While there was little our colleague could practically do to help with the situation, this call was clearly unsettling, and the result was that her attention was divided for the rest of an important business dinner.

This was her first night away since the baby’s birth, and I know that her spouse had already been on several business trips before this event. Yet, I doubt she called him during his conferences to ask child-care questions. Like so many moms everywhere, she was expected to figure things out on her own.

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The numbers show that this story is far from the exception. In another Pew survey, 47 percent of dual-income parents agreed that the moms take on more of the work when a child gets sick.[2] In addition, 39 percent of working mothers said they had taken a significant amount of time off from work to care for their child compared to just 24 percent of working fathers. Mothers are also more likely than fathers (27 percent to 10 percent) to say they had quit their job at some point for family reasons.

Before any amazing stay-at-home-dads post an angry rebuttal comment, I want to be very clear that I am not judging how families choose to divide and conquer their personal and professional responsibilities; that’s 100 percent their prerogative. Rather, I am taking aim at the culture of inequity that persists even when spouses have similar or identical professional responsibilities. This is an important issue for all of us because we are leaving untapped business and human potential on the table.

What’s more, I think my fellow men can do a lot about this. For those out there who still privately think that being a good dad just means helping out mom, it’s time to man up. Stop expecting working partners—who have similar professional responsibilities—to bear the majority of the child-care responsibilities as well.

Consider these ways to support your working spouse:

1. Have higher expectations for yourself as a father; you are a parent, not a babysitter.

Know who your pediatrician is and how to reach him or her. Have a back-up plan for transportation and emergency coverage.

Don’t simply expect your partner to manage all these invisible tasks on her own. Parenting takes effort and preparation for the unexpected.

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As in other areas of life, the way to build confidence is to learn by doing. Moms aren’t born knowing how to do this stuff any more than dads are.

2. Treat your partner the way you’d want to be treated.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard a man on a business trip say to his wife on a call something to the effect of, “I am in the middle of a meeting. What do you want me to do about it?”

However, when the tables are turned, men often make that same call at the first sign of trouble.

Distractions like this make it difficult to focus and engage with work, which perpetuates the stereotype that working moms aren’t sufficiently committed.

When you’re in charge of the kids, do what she would do: Figure it out.

3. When you need to take care of your kids, don’t make an excuse that revolves around your partner’s availability.

This implies that the children are her first priority and your second.

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I admit I have been guilty in the past of telling clients, “I have the kids today because my wife had something she could not move.” What I should have said was, “I’m taking care of my kids today.”

Why is it so hard for men to admit they have personal responsibilities? Remember that you are setting an example for your sons and daughters, and do the right thing.

4. As a manager, be supportive of both your male and female colleagues when unexpected situations arise at home.

No one likes or wants disruptions, but life happens, and everyone will face a day when the troubling phone call comes from his sitter, her school nurse, or even elderly parents.

Accommodating personal needs is not a sign of weakness as a leader. Employees will be more likely to do great work if they know that you care about their personal obligations and family—and show them that you care about your own.

5. Don’t keep score or track time.

At home, it’s juvenile to get into debates about who last changed a diaper or did the dishes; everyone needs to contribute, but the big picture is what matters. Is everyone healthy and getting enough sleep? Are you enjoying each other’s company?

In business, too, avoid the trap of punching a clock. The focus should be on outcomes and performance rather than effort and inputs. That’s the way to maintain momentum toward overall goals.

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The Bottom Line

To be clear, I recognize that a great many working dads are doing a terrific job both on the home front and in their professional lives. My concern is that these standouts often aren’t visible to their colleagues; they intentionally or inadvertently let their work as parents fly under the radar. Dads need to be open and honest about family responsibilities to change perceptions in the workplace.

The question “How do you balance it all?” should not be something that’s just asked of women. Frankly, no one can answer that question. Juggling a career and parental responsibilities is tough. At times, really tough.

But it’s something that more parents should be doing together, as a team. This can be a real bonus for the couple relationship as well, because nothing gets in the way of good partnership faster than feelings of inequity.

On the plus side, I can tell you that parenting skills really do get better with practice—and that’s great for people of both sexes. I think our cultural expectations that women are the “nurturers” and men are the “providers” needs to evolve. Expanding these definitions will open the doors to richer contributions from everyone, because women can and should be both—and so should men.

Featured photo credit: NeONBRAND via unsplash.com

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