Somewhat hypocritically, as a tactile defensive person, I have for a long time appreciated and valued the importance of touch to human development (at all ages.)

It all started after a stint in disability, where I was empowered by an amazing manager to communicate with the individuals I supported however I could, and for many this involved touch. Sometimes it was a gentle pat, others a firm handshake, and some, a reassuring hug. Thank fully I worked in a very liberal work place which valued quality of service, and personalized communication. 

Having then spent a lot of time in family homes, observing different methods of parenting, I soon recognized the importance of touch for young children as well. I noticed that those who were rejected/denied physical affection on a regular basis, seemed a lot less confident then those who were regularly hugged and shown consistent affection. 

On researching the subject, it seems that my discoveries are nothing new or obscure and that that, well….. we need touch! For example*:

  • A study by the “Journal of Epidemiology and health revealed that babies who were given more maternal affection at 8 months old, were more emotionally resilient as adults.
  • A Northwest Medicine study found that patients who were touched (i.e. Reassuring pat on the shoulder/handshake) between 1-3 ranked their GP’s as more empathetic then those who were touched less or more. GP’s who made physical contact more than 3 times were viewed as insincere. 
  • Psychologist Michael Kraus found that the teams with more on-court physical contact early in the season tended to be the teams that were more successful (both individually and as a team) later in the season. 

While I am not suggesting we all go out there and touch everyone around us, I do wonder how much we are missing by being so touch-adverse, and how much we may be letting future generations down.

Recently I assisted someone (Lets call him Bob) in seeking urgent support for some health issues. The process took upwards of 5 hours, and involved meeting with a range of professionals. From that day, one moment stands out as perhaps the most moving. A traiage nurse sat Bob down, and started talking to him. As the nurse was talking Bob was becoming increasingly agitated. The nurse reached out and gently placed her hand on Bob’s wrist, which was laying on the desk. It was as if a wave of relief washed over Bob, and he suddenly felt safe and secure. The nurse ultimately could not help (but admittedly tried quite hard to direct us in the right direction), but yet, Bob and I both felt she did more that day then anyone else, I guess because she provided Bob with comfort, hope and reassurance at the point when he most needed it. 

I would love to end this post with my amazing recommendations on how this information can be used to better look after those around you. But I cant. I guess all I can say is please, think. Think about the interactions you have with people, and remember that communication has so many dimensions, remember that by restricting a meaningful conversation to a phone call (or worse, a text!) you may be denying someone the real communication that they need.


*Examples given are oversimplified lines attempting to summarize a study, that should not be limited to 1-2 sentences… please only use this as a starting point and do your own research!

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