Affection and Physical Touch

There have been a number of recent studies that highlight the relationship between parental affection and children’s happiness and success. READ MORE ON STUDY

How we touch, hold and gaze into the eyes of our infants, from the moment they are born, is imperative in building healthy attachment. As our children grow and develop every interaction we have will shape how they will relate to us and others. This will form relationship and relatedness. Our connections and relationships that we build throughout our lives are the key to long term brain health and bodily well being.

“Touch has a memory.”
― John Keats

We touch our babies in all of their senses. We touch their skin and hold their bodies. We touch their eyes with the gaze of our own. We touch their ears with the energetic quality and emotional tone of our words and voice. The resonance of a voice is felt to the bone. Think of the feeling in your body as you hear kind and quiet love. Now think of how it feels to experience loud harshness. The smell of us, the taste of us, touches their being and creates the bond that will grow and deepen over time.

As the child grows and develops language they will develop their own tone. As our babies grow through infancy and into toddler hood they will develop their own expressive qualities. Their own vocal resonance. Their own gestures. And much of these expression will be acquired through what they learned from us and what was modeled in our home.

The Tone of Our Home

Infants understand the emotional tone of a home by the time they are 6-months. This is extraordinary to me. The emotional tone is felt through the senses of the baby starting in utero. Through the newborn’s experience in our arms, in our eyes and in our homes. Every interaction teaches the child emotional tone.  Emotional tone is felt – human to human – in the following ways:

  • The tone of voice. Volume, quality, cadence, pacing, and vocal quality of our vocal expressions.
  • The tone of the gaze. How we are feeling can be transmitted through a simple gaze with no words at all.
  • The muscle tone of our face. Facial expressions hold many emotions and ofttimes without a word having to be spoken.
  • The muscle tone of our body. Our body posture, how we hold our head on our shoulders, our shoulders on our torso, and so on – says so much of our internal emotional lives.

Through our senses we touch others with the list above. For example; our voice touches and/or pushes someone away. The look on our face or bodily stance can have similar effect on others in our lives.

As We Grow Together and Learn Together

Parents and children continue to grow and strengthen our attachment and bond. We also continue to set loving limits, hold firm boundaries and follow through on consequences. The tone of our communications can make all the difference in such interactions.

I was taken by this passage in the article.

Another interesting idea is to use affection while disciplining your child. As you talk to them about what they did wrong, put your hand on their shoulder and give them a hug at the end of the conversation to ensure them that, even if you are not pleased with their behavior, you still love them. If your children hit their sister or brother, hug them and explain how hugging feels better than hitting.

This is well intentioned and yet I see a danger in this passage. I see a real opportunity for mixed messages and confusing interactions for children. This is where we as parents need to become highly aware of what is called meta communication.

Metacommunication is all the nonverbal cues (tone of voice, body language, gestures, facial expression, etc.) that carry meaning that either enhance or disallow what we say in words.

And here is the deal – when we mix discipline with affection signals can easily get crossed and boundaries can easily become blurred. This is a tricky and subtle part of parenting and where keeping it simple can provide more clarity for the child.

I agree with the intention of the above passage I disagree with the way this could be carried out. The video below is a good example of how this can become confusing.

Here again, although I see the intentions of this well meaning father, I also have some questions.

Is he helping his daughter deal with her anger?

Is his overall tone congruent with the message he is trying to express?

I’m confused, is the message here that anger is OK or is anger something that needs to be changed?

Is this communication about the father or the child?

Does this sound authentic?

Could his intentions be expressed with fewer words?

Do you see empathy that is easily understood by a child this age?

If you were this child would you feel seen, heard, respected, empathized with and reassured?


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