Using Hugs to Keep Us Healthy

Want to keep your child healthy and happy?  Bring on the hugs!  And set aside time for lots of loving touch in the form of backrubs, snuggles, and out and out massage.

Research suggests that touch is as important to your child’s growth as are eating and sleeping.  In fact, babies who are not touched at all typically do not grow at a normal pace. Touch is of utmost importance to your child’s well-being.

Creating a Bond

One beautiful way to create special bonding is through loving touch, which can be experienced in a variety of ways.  Just think of all the time that you were brought closer to a friend or a loved one with close eye contact and a gentle touch, whether it was a hug, an arm around the shoulder, or even just holding hands.  That’s because hugs create oxytocin, sometimes called “the bonding hormone”.  Oxytocin is a hormone that produces a feeling of calm and comfort in addition to promoting feelings of security and trust in a relationship.  Sharing in gentle massage, rubbing backs, or rocking together can this effect. Through the eye contact, skin contact, and speech or song associated with these loving touches, both you and your child can achieve a state of relaxation and calm.  And the bond between you can be nurtured. “Touch is your [child’s] first language.  Through the nurturing touch of massage, you communicate deep love and respect to your child in a language he or she understands well.” – Nurturing Touch, by Kalena Babeshoff, C.M.T. and Juliana Dellinger-Belovek, M.S.E., p. 17.
Physical Benefits of Intentional Touch

In addition to facilitating emotional bonding, loving touch has many physical benefits.  The skin is the largest organ of the body and has all sorts of nerve sensors for touch making the effects of touch very far reaching. Massage experts and researchers report that massage:

  • encourages relaxation and lowers stress hormone levels (cortisol), heart rate, and blood pressure;
  • produces significantly better growth rate (up to 47% higher for pre-term babies);
  • improves circulation;
  • strengthens the immune system and increases the number of white blood cells;
  • builds muscle tone;
  • reduces stress responses and levels of pain in painful procedures including vaccines;
  • reduces pain associated with teething and constipation;
  • reduces colic;
  • helps induce sleep;
  • improves allergies in the form of atopic dermatitis;
  • helps improve the symptoms of ADHD and autism;
  • keeps blood sugar levels in check;
  • is valuable for children of all ages.

Cognitive Benefits of Loving Touch

Loving Touch builds a better brain.  Whenever your child is touched in a loving way, Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), a hormone in the brain, is produced causing more development of nerve nests in the nervous system.  Intentional touch also promotes nerve myelination, making for better mind to body communication.  Massage of the back provides stimulation to an area that is vitally important to child development. As the back is stimulated, it stimulates the growth of nerves all over the body.  (Carla Hannaford, interview with Kindermusik International Creative Team, Tape Recording, BrownsSummit, NC, 18 Jan 2000)  Even more interesting, massage not only improves cognitive development but also cognitive performance.  One study showed that children performed better on a series of cognitive tests after just 15 minutes of massage as compared with their peers.

Touch in Class
Kindermusik feels so strongly about the importance of touch on the development of your child, that we’ve made a point to include it in class.  That’s because loving touch benefits everyone, no matter how old you are.

  • Touch for Babies: The warm-up activities and gentle massage at the beginning of each Village class as well as the rocking time or quiet time later in class can all include loving touch. Scientific research tells us that this time of loving touch stimulates the regulation of healthy levels of a stress hormone in Baby’s brain. In Kindermusik Village, intentional touch activities also provide the opportunity to watch others for new ideas of ways to participate. In class, Baby may not always be comfortable with this activity. If this is the case, find other ways to interact during this time such as bouncing with a steady beat or walking slowly together to the music. Then consider trying to incorporate loving touch activities at home when Baby is not distracted by the classroom environment.
  • Touch for Toddlers and Big Kids: For toddlers in Our Time, we include rocking time each week in class, which also makes a perfect moment for snuggles, backrubs, and even a little gentle massage.  But the space we make for touch doesn’t end there, even in the big kid classes, you’ll find time for partner activities with lots of high fives, tickles, hugs, and eye contact, circle dances with holding hands, and even the occasional rocking time.  It’s a great reminder that any touch, no matter how small is beneficial.

Intentional Touch Everyday
Loving touch can easily become part of your everyday routine with your child.
Some tips for loving touch:

  • Set the mood for massage by playing your Home CD or other quiet music.
  • Set aside a small area for massage. Put a blanket on the floor and have lots of pillows so you are comfortable, too.
  • Make it a ritual to practice massage every night before bed or after a bath. The soothing effects will be good for both of you.
  • Consistency will promote a stronger sense of enjoyment and fulfillment.
  • The bond between a child and a caregiver is be strengthened through intentional touch, so allow different caregivers to take part in the sessions.
  • Remember to massage different parts of your child’s body – backs, feet, legs, arms. For babies the practice of making an “M” or heart shape on Baby’s chest while massaging is especially soothing.
  • Accompany intentional touch with quiet singing or humming.
  • Give hugs and lots of them.
  • Enjoy toe tickles, partner songs and games, and circle dances holding hands.
  • Snuggle.

To read more about the benefits of touch, check out these great websites:

http://www6.miami.edu/touch-research/ChildMassage.html

http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/01/05/touching.makes.you.healthier.health/index.html

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