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He’s Touching Me!!!

January 25, 2020

And then the accompanying phrases from parents, “Don’t make me come in there!” Or “Don’t make me pull this car over!”  Or “You just wait till your mother gets home!”

The touching thing can be, in clinical terms, problematic. Being touched when you don’t really want to be touched is a problem.

I have three siblings and grew up long before the era of the mini-van. Sadly, I grew up before seat belts were standard equipment, let alone required by law. Yep. I’m old. When we all piled into the station wagon for a road trip, it was rare that we didn’t proclaim the phrase from which the title of this post derives, and get the standard threats. We knew if Mom said it, we were OK for a few more minutes of sibling conflict, but if Dad said it, STOP RIGHT NOW. He really would pull the car off the road. And if he did, we’d be sorry. This was back in the day when it was neither illegal or socially unacceptable for parents to spank kids. Even on the side of the road. We knew this.

When there’s six of you trying to establish territory and space in a vehicle, getting touch by someone you didn’t want to get touched by could quickly become a problem. And besides, kicking up a little complaint-fight beat the boredom of the trip pretty much right up until Dad put an end to the escalating problem.

But believe it or not, getting the right kind of touches at the right time by the right people is essential to healthy development. A growing body of research is confirming that affectionate touch is essential for brain development from the moment of birth on.

In decades past, when a baby was born, after a brief moment in the mother’s arms, it was whisked away by the delivery staff and put in the nursery for testing and observation. But in recent years, OBs and delivery room staff have changed this practice. Now, unless there’s some sort of compelling medical complication, the first thing to happen with the newborn is that it gets “skin to skin time” with the mother. This creates a strong emotional bond. Or better stated, it locks in the emotional bond the baby and mother have had for the months leading up to birth. Doctors have known this for many years. But the broad use of the “skin on skin” technique is relatively new. It’s the result of research that demonstrates that the touch of skin on skin is significant for the baby. It’s absence is also significant. And not in a good way.

Appropriate, affectionate touch is life-giving. Its value for newborns is amazing, and involves the multiple millions of neurons that are being multiplied in the baby’s brain. The value of this doesn’t go away when your kids are no longer babies. In some ways, it may get more valuable over time. Especially if your kid has physical touch as one of their primary Love Languages.

Twenty-some years ago, a Christian PhD with amazing insight and sensitivity, as well as clinical experience and academic credentials, wrote a book titled The Five Love Languages. It became an over-night classic for Christian counselors and pastors, and a go-to tool for parents. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.

All three of our girls were out of high school and in college when Debbie and I read it. We both wished we had been able to have this tool in our tool kit when our girls were young. It would have been really helpful when they were still at home.

The point of the Love Languages is that we hear and feel, “You are loved,” in different ways. Dr. Gary Chapman has boiled it down to five basic “languages” that we hear and speak for this. Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Giving and Receiving Gifts, and Physical Touch.

No matter how much you love the other person, and no matter how much you try to tell them this, if you’re not speaking their Love Language, the message probably won’t make it through. This is supremely frustrating for both the sender and the intended receiver. Tons of grief and emotional hurt in relationships come from the fact that we don’t tell our loved ones we love them in a language they understand. It doesn’t take long for both the “speaker” and the “receiver” to begin to believe that the other simply doesn’t care. The worst part of this is that they both may care deeply, but are unable to connect with each other because of a language barrier. There’s lots more to say about this. I’ll come back to it in other posts.

Suffice it to say that if your child hears and feels love through Physical Touch, if this is their Love Language, you’ll want to “speak” it often. If they seem not to respond to it, that’s probably a signal that it’s not their primary Love Language. But I believe until they are 5 years old or so, each of the Love Languages are equally important and should be “spoken” often. The Physical Touch language needs to be spoken often to kids in these tremendously formative years. Even if they tend to pull away. They still need your touch.

Right up until they get to Middle School. Then, even kids with Physical Touch as their primary Love Language will likely pull away sometimes. Usually when you’d really like to give them a hug. If you’ve got Middle School kids (or have had them), you know what I’m talking about. It can be confusing and frustrating.

One thing to remember with this Physical Touch thing is that hugs aren’t the only meaningful touch a kid hears “I love you” from. A tousle of the hair. A gentle pat on the shoulder or back. A quick side-on hug. You have to know your kid well enough to figure out what works for them. Usually, you have to experiment with various physical touches to figure out what and how much they’ll tolerate.

Or here’s a revolutionary idea. ASK THEM! Just come right out and say, “Hey, I miss the old days when you’d let me hug you. I get it that you don’t really like that much now. So what would work instead of a hug?”

Don’t expect a life-changing moment between the two of you. They’re in Middle School, right? Unless they’re truly exceptional, they may not jump in for a warm and fuzzy conversation with you about appropriate physical touch. If they’re a boy, they’re even less likely to jump in like that. So be patient with them and with yourself. But don’t give up. Because appropriate touches, at the right time, by the right person are some of the most powerful things in anybody’s life.

By the way, this same principle applies to your spouse.

From → Marriage, Parenting

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