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Physical Touch- Working Meaningful Touch to Connect with your Child

Hugs are a common way to say I love you. If you have a child who has a primary love language of physical touch, it is like shouting your love. Physical touch is one of five love languages according to the book the Five Love Languages of Children by authors Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell. As previously discussed in the post, The Five Love Languages Explained, the different love languages are:

  • Physical Touch (hugs, kisses, snuggles)
  • Words of Affirmation (praise, compliments, words of encouragement)
  • Quality Time (focused attention, play, spending time together)
  • Gifts (tokens of affection and unexpected gifts)
  • Acts of Service (helping with projects, taking care of needs).

Physical touch is usually pretty natural for parents. A good rule of thumb is trying to have at least four meaningful physical touches each day to each child. This can be a hug in the morning and at night, snuggling on the couch watching a show, or giving them a piggyback ride to breakfast. It can be difficult for parents whose background makes them sensitive or resistant to physical touch. If a parent has a negative history with touch and has a child with a primary love language of physical touch, it can be a challenge to naturally show parental affection.

I found I was able to thoughtfully use physical touch to change the mood of my children. If my son came off the bus in a bad mood from a tough day at school, I strategically worked in several doses of physical touch to fill his emotional bucket. I might rub his shoulders while asking about what homework he had, sit close to him on the couch when he watched his favorite Star Wars show after school, and pat his back or rub his hair every time I walked by. It was like watching the battery life indicator on my phone slowly fill back up. He would go from a slumped and discouraged posture to a confident and relaxed child.

Physical touch can also look different depending on age. Young children might hang on your leg or want to wrestle or climb all over you. I used to chase my children around the house when they were little and catch them in a bear hug. They also had a favorite game with grandpa where he would hold them tightly in his arms and they would have to “escape.” Of course, he always let them escape, but they loved the tight hug and showing off their strength while getting plenty of close contact during the roughhouse play. Teens might draw back from hugs, but they might like slaps on the back, a quick shoulder rub, sitting near you on the couch or horseplay. I remember my sons not being as interested in hugs as teenagers so I would always bump into them when I walked past in a playful way or do a quick tousle of their hair or scratch their back. Combining eye contact and a smile with physical touch can send that loving message without saying a word.

Physical touch can also look different depending on the culture. Some cultures are extremely affectionate at all ages and between all genders. I remember meeting my husband’s Colombian family for the first time. I sat in their living room on a couch designed for three that had six adults crammed onto it with me sitting packed between his adult brother and sister. It wasn’t unusual since their culture did not have the same unspoken rules for personal space that I was used to. It took a few days to adjust to how affectionate complete strangers were when they met me, but it also made me feel welcomed and loved.

Being thoughtful about physical touch when it comes to discipline is very important if your child’s primary love language is physical touch. Spanking or any kind of negative physical contact can be devastating to a child who feels loved through physical touch. Thankfully, touch can be a powerful tool to help a child feel loved when being correcting. Holding your child in a hug as you talk through a frustrating behavior that you are trying to correct or being sure to hug after holding them accountable for a poor choice can balance the scales back to feeling love through the discipline.

Trying to work physical touch into your child’s morning, daily and evening routine can purposefully sprinkle meaningful loving touch throughout the day. Rubbing their back to wake them up, giving a piggyback ride down the stairs, having a hand on their back when asking a question, playing a physical game like football or basketball, having them sit in your lap when you read a book, painting fingernails, brushing their hair at night, and giving lots of hugs and kisses are all kinds of ways to work in positive touch. Pay attention to their cues, though. Some children hate tickling and others love it. Some teenagers are fine with hugs as long as it isn’t in front of their friends. Part of the fun is figuring out what they like and trying to work in at least four positive touches a day with each child.

By Lauren Alvarez, MA
LPC Counseling Intern, Improving Lives Counseling Services
Certified Parent Educator
Certified School Counselor

Additional Resources:

5 Love Languages Website with quizzes and explanations: https://www.5lovelanguages.com/
Video explanation of the 5 Love Languages of Children: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWW47FYFCZc
Video explanation of the 5 Love Languages: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=doRMsjoDevY

References:

Chapman, G. and Campbell, R. (2016) The 5 Love Languages of Children. Chicago, IL: Northfield Publishing.