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The 5 Love Languages of Children, Part 2: Physical Touch

In the previous article, “The 5 Love Languages of Children, Part 1,” I began to discuss the 5 love languages of children based on the book of the same name by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell. These include physical touch, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and gifts. Today, we will continue to discuss the first of five love languages, physical touch, and how this love language may change throughout a child’s lifetime. Let’s take some time to explore what the love language of physical touch may look like at each developmental stage.

Psychology

During infancy, physical touch is an important aspect of the relationship between parent and child. This may be presented in different ways. A parent engages in physical touch while feeding the infant a bottle or while changing the child’s diaper. Because infants are not able to verbalize with a parent, the communication between parent and child relies solely on physical touch. Is a child being held lovingly every day? Is a child sitting alone in a crib unattended for long periods of time? Even as an infant, a child understands the difference between a gentle and loving touch, such as being rocked to sleep, versus a harsh or irritating touch, such as forcefully changing a diaper. It is important for parents to be mindful of not only their interactions with the child, but those of other individuals around the child, such as a caregiver or other family members.

As the child becomes a toddler playful touch becomes important for a child’s emotional development. An example of playful touch may include a parent playing patty-cake and intertwining his or her hands with the child's hands.

For parents who feel that they may not be “the hugging type” or may not want to engage in these behaviors with their child, that’s okay - parents can learn different ways to incorporate this love language into the parent-child relationship in a way that feels comfortable and safe.

It is also vital for parents to engage in physical touch with their children no matter the gender. In some cases, it is not uncommon for parents to incorporate more aspects of physical touch in the relationship with daughters than with sons. However, both sons and daughters need physical touch equally in the relationship between parent and child to help foster a child’s self-esteem.

As school-aged children it is important to continue a parent-child relationship that incorporates physical touch. Children at this age continue to have a strong need for touch from loved ones. At this age, children are going to school for the first time where they are going to have many new experiences. Home should therefore be a safe and secure place. If a parent engages in affection before and after school, it provides a child with the message that home is a safe place to leave from and a comforting place to come back to.

Some school-aged children may begin to push parents away at this stage, and that’s okay. It is never appropriate to force physical touch onto a child who does not want it. However, there are still ways to incorporate physical touch into the parent-child relationship. For example, maybe a child does not want a hug but is okay with a high-five. Or maybe a child does not want to hold a parents hand, but it is okay for the parent to put a hand on the child’s shoulder. Just because a parent or a child does not feel comfortable engaging in physical touch does not mean that there should be no physical contact between a parent and a child - sometimes it just takes a little compromise.

The relationship between a parent and a child may have the most changes when the child reaches adolescence. During this developmental stage, many children pull away from parents in an attempt to become independent. This is okay - in fact, this is great. Adolescents should have the space to become autonomous. However, this does not mean that a parent can be absent from a child’s life during this stage. It is important for parents to continue to find ways to have contact with their children. For example, maybe a parent and child like to play sports together, such as basketball or volleyball. Or maybe a parent and child enjoy playing an instrument or a video game together. In these instances a parent may pat a child on the back or sit next to the child on the floor. These are subtle ways for parents to stay connected during a time when children often request more distance.

Gender is also an important topic to consider when discussing the love language of physical touch. Fathers and mothers should show love and affection to both sons and daughters equally. Sometimes it is easy for a parent to show love via physical touch to a child of a certain gender. No matter the gender of either the parent or the child, a child needs love from both parents equally. Parents also need to consider the time and place to engage in physical touch with an adolescent. For example, a child may not want a hug from a parent in front of peers or in a public place. Parents should be respectful of their children and their children’s needs no matter the setting.

Once again, never force a child to engage in physical touch. If the child pulls away, that’s okay - do not pursue. Instead, honor a child's feelings whether that is with words or actions.

And remember, parents are role models to children - a child will model a parent’s behavior and will watch how a parent appropriately practices physical touch. Therefore, it is important to show love through physical touch in an appropriate and respectful manner.

Tune back soon as I continue to discuss the five love languages of children.

If reading this article has been helpful and you would like to learn more about parenting, therapy can be a great option to explore individualize questions and concerns. Whether in couples therapy or individual therapy, parents can learn tools and skills to help them connect with their child. For more information, visit FAQ at Hilber Psychological Services or contact us to schedule an appointment.