The Benefits of Touch

Charlotte JenkinsBeacon Community Services, Beacon Education Services, Beacon Family Services, Beacon Training Services, Family Relationships, News

Think about the best hugs you have had. Take a minute and just savour how it felt. You may think of a parent, grandparent, your partner or even the smell of  your child as you cuddle them. Perhaps it’s a big, tight, squeezy hug or maybe you preference is for a light pat on the back. We all prefer different forms of touch. The right kind of touch releases endorphins in our brains, creating a sense of connection that leads to empathy and trust. That’s why hug therapy is a thing. Yes, really. Google Nordic hug therapy and enjoy.

Many of the games we encourage in our Theraplay® sessions are about helping children to feel soothed and safe as a result of their parents calming touch, but some of the children we work with find touch difficult. They pull away from touch, leading the adults in their lives to touch them less and less.

While it’s natural to hold back if someone is uncomfortable with touch, it can mean that children don’t experience the benefits of safe, soothing and calming touch. There are real and very good reasons for tactile defensiveness. Children may experience tactile defensiveness as a result of traumatic experiences with touch or sensory processing and integration issues associated with diagnoses like autism. Regardless of the reason, it means that child has very particular preferences when it comes to touch. As a parent or carer, it can be difficult to find the right kind of touch for your child to help them feel safe.

Touch is a personal thing and it’s important to remember that each one of us have different preferences. Just like Goldilocks had to work out which chair, porridge and bed was just right for her, parents need to work with their child to find the right kind of touch. This is where play can really help.

Hand Squeezes provides an engaging way for adults and children to find out about each other’s touch preferences in a way which makes children feel safe and nurtured. When playing the game, you can experiment with different types of hand squeezes. You may find that your child prefers their hand being firmly squeezed or maybe they prefer a lighter touch instead. Some parents are surprised their child responds better to slow, firm touch. Interestingly, according to research, we are hardwired to prefer light, slow strokes of 2.5 centimetres which last for 2.5 seconds. You can find out more about Prof Michael Banissy and Dr Natalie Bowling’s research into touch and the results of the world’s largest study of touch here.

Research suggests that for many, very soft touch is less calming than touch which is firmer. A perfect example of this is tickling. Think of how tickling makes a child squirm and scream. Often tickling is a sudden and alerting kind of touch and it can be particularly difficult for children who are tactile defensive. For these children, it’s important to structure touch which children may find tickly through games like Hide and Find. This video helps to shows how the game helps parents offer calming touch with their child through play.

Games like Hide and Find can help children experience touch in a safe way.

Touch is a really important sense as seen in our previous post and remembering we are all different in our preferences and working out what feels just right for each of us can help us build opportunities to connect through just the right amount and kind of touch.

For more information about how and why we created our resources, click here. You can purchase our resources from our online shop. They are available for the introductory price of £14.99 + p&p.

As a not for profit organisation we are committed to supporting our wider community and the work of the organisations we partner with. Therefore, we’ve allocated portion of the profits of each sale to support families who may not be able to afford therapy and a portion of the profits to support the work of AdoptionUK.


Charlotte Jenkins is the founder and a director of Beacon Family Services. She is an experienced social worker supporting children and families therapeutically using Theraplay and Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy.  

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