The Psychological Benefits of Physical Touch in Early Life

In the past, a newborn baby would be removed from his or her parents and taken directly to the nursery to be cleaned, weighed, monitored, poked, and prodded. As it turns out, advances in modern medicine are returning to a more natural approach for good reason. Doctors now recommend skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth. Not only does it regulate the baby’s breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate, it also triggers endorphins that are critical in a child’s social, moral, and psychological development for a lifetime.

Children who receive positive physical touch from caregivers, who are comforted with a hug when upset, held, and cuddled, tend to have more positive social interactions and moral regulation into adulthood while children who receive more negative touch, such as corporal punishment, or a lack of positive physical interaction in early life tend to have more negative outcomes overall. Additionally, children from both groups, tend to imitate the behaviors they see, which can impact their relationships in the future.

Physical touch releases oxytocin, an important neurologically communicative hormone that plays a key role in childbirth and breastfeeding. It is also integral in forming love bonds between children and caregivers. It affects the parts of the brain which control emotions and empathy as well as social skills and trust. When children learn to love, trust, and empathize with their caregivers from the beginning, they will project those important lessons upon their peers and in their relationships as adults and parents themselves.

A child’s brain development hinges on positive and appropriate stimulation from caregivers. Children from homes of extreme neglect tend to have smaller, less developed brains. Without intervention, they may pass negatively modeled behaviors and their own development on to future generations. Likewise, children who come from loving homes tend to have better brain development, higher academic achievement, less legal trouble, and an easier time forming relationships. They also enjoy longer lives than those who were neglected or abused as children as adverse childhood experiences are known to lead to a shorter lifespan.

To ensure a child has the best chance in life, avoids mental health issues later on, and achieves his or her full developmental potential, caregivers should practice gentle and loving interaction from the start.

This article was originally published on BryanDunst.com

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