Significance of Touch in the Lives of Young Children

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Touch is an essential part of a young child's development (Carlson, F., 2005, pgs. 79-85). From the moment of birth, when uterine contractions caress the baby, touch is a catalyst for healthy cognitive, physical, and emotional development. When an infant is born, touch is needed to support and sustain healthy brain development (Shore 1997). Touch plays a critical role in the brain’s ability to weather stress without adverse effects. Touch lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the human brain. (Holden 1996, Field et al, 1997, Shore 1997, Blackwell 2000). Positive touch reduces levels of cortisol in the bloodstream (Holden 1996, Field et al, 1997, Shore 1997, Blackwell 2000). Good touch will lead to increased mental and physical functioning in children. Without touch, children do not thrive. The emotional attachment that is formed as a result of warm and responsive care provides a child with a secure base from which to explore the world. Touch matters. Humans need nurturing touch for optimum emotional, physical, and cognitive development and health especially in infancy. Daily touch plays a significant role in early brain development. Some experts believe that a baby’s face so soft, round and so kissable has evolved precisely to invite needed touch from loved ones (Levy & Orlans 1998). In addition to a loss in the expression of their own emotions and affection, children who are deprived of touch growing up also show great tendencies toward other negative effects of life. In social and psychological studies, researchers have found that with touch deprivation, children often grow into juveniles and adults who show tendencies toward physical violence, sleep disorders, suffer from suppressed immune systems and even show some tendencies toward impaired growth development. The basis on which these findings were concluded seem to indicate that when a child is deprived of physical contact by a parent, especially a mother, the child does not learn to develop and nurture a compassionate and caring side of themselves and thus will not care about the world they are involved in nor care about their own bodies. As a parent with a young child, especially an infant, it is important to express loving and caring emotions through physical interaction; touch. Because of this, many new parents are becoming more involved in the physical interaction with their children, often taking classes in the techniques of infant massage. By learning and applying these techniques from infancy through grade school, your child will develop a more healthy sense of being and will learn to feel and express love throughout adulthood. Developmental delay is common in children deprived of normal sensory stimulation – for example, in premature neonates and some institutionalized children. Touch has emerged as an important modality for the facilitation of growth and development; positive effects of supplemental mechanic-sensory stimulation have been demonstrated in a wide range of organisms, from worm larvae to rat pups to human infants. By understanding the underlying mechanisms, as well as the timing and degree of stimulation required to fully reverse the effects of early childhood deprivation, strategies can be developed to best help those in need. Research on the benefits of touch for premature infants has already led to procedural changes at many hospitals, with the implementation of ‘kangaroo care’ as a standard care option for both premature and full-term infants. In kangaroo care, the infant only wears a diaper and is held upright against the bare chest of the carrier. Feldman et al p.6 studied the long-term effects of this technique and found that premature infants who had received at least one hour of kangaroo care daily for at least two weeks, beginning between thirty one and thirty four weeks post conception, scored higher on both the mental and motor domains of the Bayley assessment tests at six months.   The benefits of touch are not...
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