Skin-deep: How to Love Your Kids Through Their Skin
Skin-deep: How to Love Your Kids Through Their Skin
Like it or not, we take in most of the love we receive through our skin. This is most obvious in newborns. The mortality rate in NICUs is highest in the case of kids who are not held and touched. This basic need to be touched never leaves us though. Introvert or extrovert, old or young – we are all hardwired to feel love through our skin.
Oh, but as our kids grow up and scramble out of our arms, how easy it is for us parents to forget this! We’re so busy feeding their tummies, educating their minds and getting them from one place to the next – there’s little time or energy to stop and nourish their (very real) need for affection.
Psychotherapist Virginia Satir says, “We need 4 hugs a day to survive. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day to thrive.”
With 5 kids, Julie and I have our hugging work cut out for us! Although we may not get all those hugs in every day, our newfound awareness of how critical physical touch is has made us both far more intentional. In fact, we made a decision to really work on just this one aspect of our parenting for the next 2 weeks.
Every chance we get (when appropriate and consensual), we’ve started to add physical touch to our moments with our kids. As they run up to ask us something, we’ll add in a gentle hand squeeze or back pat as we reply. As they sit down next to us at dinner, we’ll take a few extra seconds to squeeze the living daylights out of the ones sitting closest to us before tucking into our meal. The results have been compelling – in just a week, all our kids seem to enjoy and expect more physical touch… it’s like a thirst they forgot they even had has been reawakened. It’s been reawakened in us too – far from feeling like a burdensome chore or obligation, every little moment of affection has felt like its fuelling our love and enjoyment of our kids – helping us to be more present in each moment and relish these small people while we have them close.
Also, as the pic shows, our kids have become more affectionate with each other!
Research backs up all this touch feely stuff too. A growing number of studies confirm that touch has a way of releasing oxytocin (the happiness hormone), reducing stress (by helping our bodies produce less cortisol), improving health and immediately strengthening a sense of connection between people.
Maybe you want to do the same in your home?
Here’s what we have started to work on everyday. Why not challenge yourself (and your spouse if you have one) to prioritise these 10 habits over the next 2 weeks.
1. Hug your kids first thing when you or they come home.
2. Put your hand on their shoulder or head when you talk with them.
3. Kiss your kids at least once a day – your little kids might let you shower them with pecks, whilst your teens may run a mile! By all means, respect their stage and space, but at least try sneak in a top-of-their-head kiss while they’re slouched on a couch.
4. Hold their hand when you go for a walk with them, even a brief hand squeeze. Again, never force them to be affectionate, but you might be surprised how willing they are, especially when not around their friends or lots of other people.
5. If you watch something with them, sit on the same couch and cuddle them.
6. Playfight with your kids. When I asked my kids who they want as a godfather, they all mentioned my one friend. Why, I asked? ‘Because he playfights with us.’ Every time my birthday or Christmas rolls by, the cards from my kids always mention how much they love me because I playfight with them. Maybe your daughter is different, but my girl loves this as much as her 4 brothers.
7. With smaller kids, occasionally scoop them up in your arms and carry them to where they need to get to (the bath, the dining room, their beds). Give them a tight squeeze while you do.
8. Snuggle or tickle them when they go to bed. I love reading to them like this. Julie tends to have her best conversations with our kids while she lies next to them, tickling their backs.
9. Tell your kids, ‘Any time you need some hugs or tickles or a little playfight, just let me know.’ Then thank your kids for hugs and tickles – let them see how much you love their physical affection. Remember, you need it just as much as they do.
10. When your kids get hurt and come to you for comfort, take a moment to really get down on their level and let them know through their skin that you see and hear them. Comfort them with a big hug or kiss if appropriate.
In all these moments of affection, see if you can:
- Add time to your touch. A 1-second hug is not nearly as effective as a 10-second one.
- Add pressure. Tickles and gentle back pats are great, but a firm hug or a hand squeeze sends a message of love even more deeply. A big bear hug is king. Science backs this up by the way – there are tiny pressure sensors all over our skin that are directly linked to oxytocin release.
Also, don’t believe these 2 myths: 1) Boys need less touch than girls. 2) Teenagers need less touch than kids.
Finally, make sure you use this time to let your kids know that physical affection is only ok if it is consensual. Nobody should ever feel pressurised or obligated to hug or cuddle with anyone. Never force your kids to hug you or anybody else. Speaking of others, this kind of affection is really only suitable within the family, we should get most of our touch needs met from our moms and dads and siblings.
That’s it. Let’s all love our kids more tangibly through touch.
Over the next 2 weeks, imagine if thousands of us take up this challenge – all doing what we can to put these 10 habits in place in our families. Just think of the exponential amount of hugs and hand squeezes, giggles and playfights, smiles and happy, secure kids we could be part of making.
Why not share this with your spouse and friends who have kids too – as the old marketing adage goes – the juice is worth the squeeze.
Then, in two weeks, I’ll share with you the next love-skill that we can all work on together. Believe it or not, there are nine other really important ways to love our kids. Physical affection is just the first.
Let us know how it goes in the comments.