Human to human contact is the touchstone of engendering good relationships and better health
Physical contact is a basic human need. Margaret Chuong-Kim, on Dr Ben Kim’s website, reports on a number of studies that have proven how important touch really is. Skin-to-skin contact between mothers and their infants improves physical development and attachment. Touch can reduce stress, alleviate pain and improve overall health. Therapeutic touch has been found to alleviate behavioral symptoms in patients
The New York Times reporter Benedict Carey writes of some more recent research that suggests touch is a more potent form of communication than facial expressions, physical gestures or words. DePauw University researchers
found that blindfolded participants were able to discern eight different emotions 70 per cent of the time through touch.
Touch can also improve performance, reports Carey. Berkeley researchers studied basketball teams to see how supportive contact affected performance and found that basketball teams that engaged in ample physical contact ranked higher in the US National Basketball Association. Teams that didn’t engage in as many high fives, hugs, pats and bumps ended up at the bottom of the heap. Among individual players the touchiest teammates were the highest performers.
Psychologist James A Coan tells Carey that touch communicates support in terms of problem-solving, that humans are wired to interpret contact as a sharing of brain power. This support engenders many benefits: when teachers touch a student’s arm or back, the students are more apt to speak up in class; massage has been found to reduce depression and pain.
Tracy O Connor of Pick the Brain.com writes about the importance of touch, too. Touch helps us to feel connected to others and to bond with them. It reinforces our relationships and contributes to our confidence and security. Studies have found that touch can lower blood pressure and heart rate and improve healing ability. Touch can increase the optimism and trust with which we view others and the world and contributes to our emotional development.
Children, especially adolescents and teens, may suffer most from lack of contact. In the litigious US, several schools ban all physical contact between students according to an article on Socialphy.com. Fairfax Middle School in Virginia and East Shore Middle School in Connecticut both punish any contact between students — from shaking hands to high fives — supposedly to protect students from physical violence.
Mornington Peninsula primary school in Australia came under scrutiny for instituting a ‘no physical contact’ policy after some playground injuries occurred. Students and parents were astounded by the move. One student was punished for putting a consoling arm around a friend’s shoulder, reports The Age.
And even though a teacher’s touch can improve a student’s performance, many teachers are reluctant to employ contact for fear
Daniela Lamas of Seattle Times reports on researcher Tiffany Field’s work on touch and children. She finds that American children may be suffering from lack of contact. Field works at the University of Miami’s Touch Research Institute and has found that touching by teachers decreases as children age and that aggressive behaviour seems to rise among these children.
Field says that in terms
of cultures, those that employ less contact are often more violent and that monkeys deprived of contact have increased stress hormone levels and are more aggressive.
France is a country with very low rates of adolescent male homicide. Field studied children in France and the US and found that American children touch each other less often and are more aggressive than the French. American preschoolers are touched less frequently by their parents than French children and are much more fussy. Field even studied high school seniors out at an eatery in both countries and found that the French often touched each other while socialising but the American kids stimulated themselves, cracking their knuckles or fiddling with their hair or jewellery.
Field hopes that parents can learn to make a point of touching their adolescent children more often and that teachers can learn to feel safer around giving supportive contact to students. She points out that in Scandinavia, preschoolers are taught to give each other back rubs.
It’s normal to lavish physical affection on small children and your adolescent or teen may be embarrassed by open displays of your love but lay a hand on his or her shoulder when you can, pat them on the back, or give them high fives. Frequent touching can go far in terms of strengthening your relationship and in helping your child to feel calm and secure.
Oksana is a life coach based in Dubai; she’s
an expert in stress
management, addictions and phobias, relationships, communication skills and emotional pain management.
Visit her: www.design
lifecoach.com or email her: email@example.com