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Is Physical Touch Important to Children & Teens?


Question: Is Physical Touch Important to Children & Teens?

Foster and adoptive parents learn know that many of the children who enter their homes have come from environments where the child’s basic needs were not met with any kind of predictability or consistency. Many babies have cried with little to no response from their main caregiver. This inconsistency of care may lead to attachment issues in the future.

This is one reason why including physical touch in the day to day care of the foster/adopted child is important. Some other reasons include:


"Touch is important for everyone's physiological health and is an expression of affection, appreciation, and valuing between two people. Touch builds interpersonal bonds and actually improves brain chemistry." ~ The Connected Child by Karyn B. Purvis, Ph.D., David R. Cross, Ph.D., and Wendy Lyons Sunshine

Studies have shown that physical touch can reduce stress, relieve pain and increase the ability to cope. I’m sure many of us know a child in foster care that could use these benefits. Physical touch is even one of the love languages discussed by Gary Chapman.

There has also been a lot of research conducted on the importance of physical contact between newborns and their mothers. It’s been shown that skin-to-skin contact improves the bonds between mother and baby, including an improvement in the infant’s physical development and health.

The benefits of physical touch, even a good hug, doesn't seem to stop in infancy.

"When you get a loving and firm hug, it stimulates pressure receptors under the skin, which in turn send a message to the vagus nerve in your brain. The vagus nerve takes this cue to slow down your heart rate and your blood pressure, putting you in a relaxed state. The hug even curbs stress hormones such as cortisol, facilitates food absorption and the digestion process, and stimulates the release of serotonin, which counteracts pain." ~ The Connected Child by Karyn B. Purvis, Ph.D., David R. Cross, Ph.D., and Wendy Lyons Sunshine

Since many times these children come to us after the infant or toddler stage, we as foster and adoptive parents must get creative in finding ways to incorporate physical touch with older foster/adoptive sons or foster/adoptive daughters in age-appropriate ways. Consider some of the following options:

  • holding hands (great way to get skin-to-skin contact with an older child)
  • pats on the back
  • high fives and fist bumps
  • a game of thumb wrestling
  • side hugs (always a good idea to ask for a hug first, especially if a child has been traumatized by sexual abuse)
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