Brain development in children depends on positive physical touch from a loving adult. This positivity often comes from the parent but can be another family member or caregiver if the child is comfortable. With positive physical contact, children can thrive and develop healthily, eventually becoming positive adults.
With many activities outside of the home, electronics, and busy schedules, many children aren’t getting this stimulation. They still need this contact to thrive, even if they eat a healthy diet and get a good education. Although life may be busy, positive physical contact is essential for children to develop to their full ability.
From the very beginning of their lives, children learn from and depend on physical contact from their caregivers. It helps them communicate with and discover the world about them. They need a loving adult to help them do this, as they trust you to keep them safe and help them explore.
Why Touch Is Essential to Better Brain Development in Kids
Research shows that positive touch is essential to development because it directly affects cognitive brain function and socioemotional development. There are many ways that it can affect neurological development in children, and understanding it can give guidance.
1 – It Impacts Short-Term Development
According to the National Institutes of Health, touch is a significant contributor to early childhood development.
Positive physical contact significantly impacts short-term neurological development from the very start of a child’s life. As infants, children require this contact because it helps them learn about the world around them. It also helps them bond with their caregivers, allowing them to develop positive bonding skills.
Additionally, it helps them learn to communicate their wants and needs. All of this contributes to a child’s development of social, emotional, and intellectual skills. If they don’t receive positive contact, they won’t develop properly in those areas, hindering their abilities.
Without enough positive contact in their early lives, children will be deprived and struggle developmentally. They may fall behind their peers, and this struggle can eventually have a long-lasting effect on their lives. They will struggle to connect, to express emotions, and to develop intellectually.
2 – Touch Impacts Long-Term Development
Positive contact can impact a child for up to eight years, making it a long-term developmental necessity. They will handle their emotions better and tend to be less hostile, anxious, and emotionally distressed as adults.
Children who lack this necessity tend to have cognitive delays well into their future. Because of this, they’ll be angrier and more aggressive as they get older. This can continue into adulthood, causing severe problems for them as they go through life.
During their years in school, they will continue to struggle without positive contact. The more they fall behind, the harder it will be to catch up. As this cycle continues, the long-term effects only become more severe and prolonged.
3 – The Child’s Brain Functioning Increases
Positive physical contact can increase brain functioning, helping children develop new skills. Since the sensory system is one of the first to develop, it forms a basis for later development.
This is why stimulating brain functioning in children through positive contact is so important. It impacts brain functioning and the development of other senses, cognitive development, and social development. Without the first fundamental steps of development, children wouldn’t be able to grow on that.
One piece of research that confirms brain functioning increases through positive contact was published by the National Institutes of Health. Researchers studied premature babies and their brain’s responses to physical contact, along with other similar studies.
The research showed that premature babies who had more positive physical contact had more significant brain responses. On the other hand, the babies who didn’t receive as much kindly contact didn’t respond as well to being touched.
Researchers also found that unpleasant contact significantly reduced their brain activity. This includes skin punctures and the insertion of tubes.
4 – Helps with Positive Mental Development
Physical contact plays a significant role in the development of positive mental health. When children are touched by their parents, they tend to be less scared, anxious, or sad. This gives them a chance to think about how they are feeling and to develop their mental skills.
When children aren’t comforted during times of distress, their mental development will suffer. They may often express anger and aggression to cope rather than coping positively.
Another way that physical contact helps with mental development is through their self-worth. It’ll ensure them that they are loved and valued, which essentially gives them a greater sense of their worth.
When a child’s self-worth is improved, it leads to a decreased risk of depression. It’ll help improve their sleep habits, as well, which also contributes to better mental health.
Positive physical contact helps their brains mentally develop in other ways, too. It can help prevent body image disorder throughout their lifetime.
5 – It Helps Keep Children Healthy
While keeping children healthy may not seem like it affects neurological development, it’s imperative. If children are often sick or not feeling well, they won’t be able to do the things that help their brains develop.
Children may not play as much, or be as engaged as they could be, hindering their learning opportunities. Plus, development is stimulated through movement, so lying in bed prevents growth, as well.
Positive physical contact helps with that. It stimulates receptors that lower the heart rate, slow breathing, lower stress hormones, and boost the immune system. All of those benefits play crucial roles in staying healthy.
6 – Touch Impacts Social-Emotional Development in the Brain
Children need to build positive social habits, including learning social-emotional cues. One aspect that children have to learn is appropriate physical contact.
Children have to know what feels good and what doesn’t, plus they have to learn about physical boundaries. Additionally, children have to learn about communicating their feelings and expressing needs. They also have to learn about recognizing and responding to the needs of others.
Examples of Positive Touch
It’s easier for parents to feel comfortable touching a child, but knowing positive ways can help. For those who may not know how to give positive physical contact, it’s easier than you may think.
If you don’t know the child’s feelings about being touched, always ask them before you make contact. It may be best to ask, even if you think you know the child’s feelings to reinforce their boundaries.
To give positive physical contact to children, you have to know what constitutes positive touching. Some examples include:
- a light massage
- gentle strokes on their back or leg
- rocking or holding a child
- hugging, making sure to never deny a hug when a child asks
- reading a book while the child sits on your lap
- hold hands while walking
- touch-based learning
- gentle strokes on their face
Infant massages are highly beneficial to early brain development. This one is important to discuss further because there are many benefits, some for the caregiver, as well. Some of the benefits include:
- developing bonding skills
- better sleep patterns
- baby is aware of being loved and secured
- improved digestion
- less crying because of discomfort
- promotes weight gain
- relaxing for the baby and the mother or caregiver
- neurological functioning is improved
When children receive hugs, their bodies produce more oxytocin. This is a hormone that increases during positive physical contact and strong, positive feelings. Two instances where it benefits a child’s neurological development is during breastfeeding and hugging.
For babies, an increase in oxytocin causes increased bonding between a mother and baby. It also helps children develop trust for others, close relationships, and maternal or paternal instincts. Hugging and the release of oxytocin affects the cognitive, emotional, and social development of children.
While physical contact is essential, children can receive positive contact in other ways, too. By using various materials and textures in their play, children can further develop their senses, language, and vision. As they are playing with these different materials and textures, make sure to explain each item to them.
Plus, playing with a child in this way helps with development, as well. Having a daily routine of playing with a child and spending time together provides additional development opportunities.
Therapists and researchers have spent extensive amounts of time learning why touch is essential to better brain development in kids. Through their studies, they were able to provide this valuable information for parents and caregivers to learn from.
Parents will have an easier time touching their child, but caregivers can give positive contact, as well. With the many safe suggestions for providing loving contact, it is easy to provide the physical contact they need. Remember to ask the child before making contact so that they feel comfortable and learn to understand their boundaries.
With the many positive effects on neurological development, positive physical contact is essential for children. For them to learn, grow, and develop positively, they have to experience this from a loving adult. The earlier age they experience this, the sooner the benefits will take effect.