Nurturing Touch and Displays of Affection Beyond Infancy

I’ve gotten funny looks from some people before as I snuggle my kiddos while in the play area at the library or shower them with kisses in a moment of shared affection. It doesn’t bother me, but sometimes I wonder what it is about public displays of affection that makes others uncomfortable. I know the way a person is raised and was shown affection has a huge impact on how they later view and display affection. However, sometimes I wonder if it is also a societal view on affection that makes people think they need to restrain from displaying too much affection publicly.

Just to clarify, I am talking about decent public displays of affection. Yes, there may be a differing definition between you and me on the word decent, but for all intents and purposes I think we can agree that hugs, kisses, gentle strokes of kiddos hair, gentle back pats or rubs, and/or holding hands are all decent.

The benefits of touch during infancy and childhood have been getting increased attention over the last few years. Skin-to-skin contact in particular, while long recognized as beneficial by some groups and researchers, has only recently begun to be more recommended by the medical community. I have seen posters up in my Obstetrician’s office promoting skin-to-skin contact that were not there when I was pregnant with my first and second babies.

Although babywearing has been receiving some bad press recently, many parents thankfully still see the benefits and convenience of this long-standing practice.

No one really frowns upon a mother or father smelling their infants’ hair, gently stroking their cheek, or kissing their plump cheeks or tiny lips.

Unfortunately, past the infancy stage, there seems to be a stop to the promotion of public touch. Just because a child reaches a certain age does not mean they also reach the end of needing nurturing touch. However, the line becomes blurry, and parents might begin to feel the eyes of society on them and hold back from showing affection to their children in public. Our society is so hypersensitive to this topic that people feel if they are seen publicly showing affection that people will label or judge them. The fear is there. The media is full of awful stories of those who do prey on children. It is unfortunate because our minds have been tainted by this, and many of us can no longer see a mother kissing or hugging her child without possibly thinking it is weird.

I would like to see a return to the normalization of public displays of affection. Children need affection and nurturing touch just as much as infants and to deprive them of this need is to risk hindering the development of their emotional intelligence. The Natural Parenting movement is definitely helping to bring awareness not only to the importance of developing healthy attachment, but also to all of the things that come along with that: breastfeeding, babywearing, co-sleeping, gentle discipline and nurturing touch.

I am by no means an “expert” on nurturing touch. However, I do know that this is an important topic and I’d like to share some of the ways our family shows affection to one another:

  • We make an effort to make eye contact when we speak to our children.
  • I always combine a positive emotional reaction with a physical response. By this I mean that when my kiddos do something that makes me feel proud or happy, I not only use language to express my emotion, but I also give them hugs and kisses.
  • Along the same lines, in response to a negative emotional reaction (as in when the kiddos do something they aren’t supposed to do!) I do use a stern yet gentle voice, but I still make a point to include a reassuring touch while disciplining (such as a hug or holding their hand while talking to them).
  • Because they’ve always been exposed to and have received affection, my kiddos will often come to me while we’re out and about and hug me, ask for a kiss, tell me they love me, or ask to hold my hand. I always reciprocate their actions without embarrassment and I don’t make them feel like showing affection in public is inappropriate.
  • I encourage them to show affection to each other and I praise them when they hold each others hand or hug and kiss each other. Recently I am noticing that many times they are able to resolve their conflicts on their own, and they always, always end by hugging and kissing each other. This just melts my heart into way-beyond-melted butter.
  • My son is currently in the biting and pinching phase. Oh the lovely approach of age two! To deal with this I have been telling him, “No pinching {biting}. Yes hugs {kisses}.” He seems to get it. He does a 180 and then proceeds to hug and kiss whoever his victim was. Also, when he is frustrated or angry (which is when the biting and pinching usually happen) I take preemptive action and tell him, “take a deep breath,” which he does, and then I give him a big hug and continue on to find out why he is upset. Sometimes, though, he just needs to vent all the emotion out, so he does. He cries and throws himself on the floor and kicks and flails. When he’s done he always comes over to me and asks for “uppie”. We hug and kiss and I talk to him about what happened, and then it’s all better.
  • I think it’s so important for fathers to show affection towards their kiddos. This helps with bonding, discipline, and the strengthening of the father-child relationship in general. It also helps to normalize the display of emotion and affection for children even more. This is especially important for boys because our society tends to have a “boys don’t cry” kind of approach, which is unhealthy when it comes to the development of the emotional system. As of this moment, my 21 month old son is very affectionate and I hope he continues to have that healthy sense of displaying his emotions and affection.
  • Along the same lines, I think it’s also important for children to see their parents showing affection to each other. I grew up seeing my parents hug and kiss when my Dad came home from work, dance around in their arms to some music, hold hands or link arms on walks, and generally showing gentle, loving affection to each other. On the other hand, my hubby says he hardly saw his parents being affectionate to each other. He says this affected the way he came to view relationships. In the beginning of our relationship he was a bit tense in showing public affection; even holding hands was a bit uncomfortable for him. But over the years and after being around my very affectionate Latin family, he has grown to become more comfortable with giving and receiving physical affection.

There are many many ways to be affectionate, respectful, and nurturing to one another. Just as with anything, this all has to fit and feel comfortable within each family, but the overarching idea is that it’s important to show our children that affection is natural and normal and something that they should not have to grow up to feel uncomfortable with. After all, one day they will become parents too!

Photo Credit: Author

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Kat is and loves many things. Mostly she loves her husband and her two kiddos. During her “free” time she has a Well-Being and Parent Coaching practice and focuses on helping individuals achieve well-being, happiness and purpose while navigating the roller coaster ride that life and parenthood are. On the side she enjoys writing, photography, reading, yoga and chatting about anything and everything. She blogs at Loving {Almost} Every Moment, where she writes about the things she’s passionate about.

2 Responses to Nurturing Touch and Displays of Affection Beyond Infancy

  1. Lauren @ Hobo Mama  

    I love this post! I know it always made me feel so loved as a child to have my parents play with my hair or scratch my back or take my hand as we were walking. Even now as an adult, my parents are physically affectionate toward me, like giving shoulder rubs and hugs, and I want the same for my kids. But, honestly, I couldn’t stop myself even if I wanted to — my four-year-old’s just still so dang cute! :)

    I agree, too, with what you said about fathers showing affection. It makes me so happy to see my partner snuggle with his sons. Thanks!

  2. Dave Higgs-Vis @ Folkabout Baby  

    I’m all about affection with my little one!

    She’s one, and I don’t plan on ever letting up with the hugs, kisses, and everything else. Unless she tells me otherwise, of course.

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