The Importance of Physical Affection for Children and Adults

· December 6, 2016

We often underestimate the importance of physical interaction with those we cherish and love. We assume that physical contact is not necessary. Our daily connection with others is reduced to words and eye contact. And we do not even take full advantage of the physical affection we could get from them.

Our need to mark and protect our personal limits at all costs causes us to gradually reduce the amount of physical affection. We show in its minimal, socially correct expression, a nonsensical custom that increasingly makes us more and more uncomfortable or leaves us empty due to lack of authenticity.

In dealing with physical contact in this way, we are forgetting how important this is to the well-being of our physical, emotional and mental health. Touching another human being allows us to convey important messages that words or deeds do not themselves show.

Physical affection is not just something for children

In the last decades, much has been talked about and investigated about the importance that physical affection has for the physical and emotional development of infants and children. Various studies and experiences support the theory that young children need contact and caresses to grow and develop in a healthy way.

But the importance of physical affection is not only a vital necessity for the development of children. It is important for the adaptation of human beings throughout their life. Human beings practice what is known as favorable social behavior.

Favorable social behavior is a voluntary action that benefits another person. From an evolutionary point of view, by participating in acts of trust and cooperation social groups survive by acting in mutually beneficial altruistic ways for all, thus sowing trust between them. That is why physical contact is a vital part of this process of favorable social behavior.

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Several studies have shown that for skin-to-skin contact and heat can improve weight gain in preterm infants and that touch can convey complex emotions such as empathy and appreciation.

It has also been shown that simply touching someone improves cognitive and emotional development, including reducing susceptibility to depression or slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Being touched with affection can even contribute to having a stronger immune system at all ages.

Physical contact with children

Showing physical affection towards children is something that usually comes from within naturally, especially when children are young. The helpless nature of the children makes parents and relatives feel drawn to protect and embrace them.

It is important to give children physical contact by holding their hands, stroking their hair, giving them hugs and kisses. This will not spoil children, however old they may seem, but quite the opposite. This intimacy benefits both parties and strengthens the relationship with them.

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With the passage of time it is easy to forget the importance and necessity of these gestures, but children still need this contact. Even if they seem to refuse it, they do appreciate it. Perhaps they need it in a different way, less childlike or less obvious; perhaps in private and not in plain sight.

Physical contact with one’s partner and other adults

The physical intimacy with one’s partner and the affection towards members of the family and close friends is also something of which we have to be more conscious. It is not only about demonstrating the level of comfort we feel with the people closest to us, but also about transmitting emotions that go beyond what can be communicated verbally.

Our sexual health is of the utmost importance, but many cultures consider taboo certain types of contact in some circumstances. Unfortunately, the idea that sexual intercourse and physical connection is something that should only be put into practice for the sole purpose of procreation can actually cause dysfunction and harm. This impedes the natural development of sexual desire and the physical need for intimacy.

In this sense, research shows that consenting sexual expression among adults has many health benefits. Experiencing sexual pleasure through liberated connection and sharing physical intimacy is important not only for our emotional, psychological and physical development.

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Do not force children to maintain physical contact

Children should not be forced to hug or kiss anyone, even if it is a relative. They should be taught to maintain their physical autonomy, to mark and enforce its limits. In this way they can build relationships of trust, where physical contact evolves with mutual consent and affection, rather than being imposed.

If we force a child to kiss or receive kisses that he does not want we are taking away the weapons to defend against sexual abuse by an adult. In addition, we are teaching them to lie about their feelings and depriving them of learning how to express their affection towards others.

Children should learn about their body as soon as they have the ability to understand, which is earlier than adults usually think. We have the obligation and responsibility to teach them physical self-determination, to facilitate their physical care and to assist them in their transition to independence. That is why it is crucial to teach them about their body, about what is appropriate and inappropriate.

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