I’ve been a bit hesitant to discuss this, because I am aware of the general über-allergic response of the public to anything related to touch and children. Those are two words that, when put together, inspire images of NAMBLA freaks or otherwise creepy old men. I think it’s a mistake to avoid the topic of touch just as much as it is a mistake to ignore a child’s need for proper nutrition.
I have met many parents—mostly men—who are deathly afraid of touching their children in anything but a formal manner. It’s incredibly sad. One parent admitted to me that he simply doesn’t want to give anyone the idea that he likes touching his kids—that he might be seen as a pedophile! Ask any healthy father what his greatest fear is and he’ll tell you that it’s his child being molested or worse. So the fear of being perceived as this kind of demon is palpable.
But like any solution to a problem of one extreme, it is important not to swing to the other extreme.
Children need touch. They need lots of it. In fact, their need for quality and quantity of non-sexual touch can hardly be overstated. Children need to be hugged, kissed, caressed, cuddled, swung, carried, high-fived, tackled, tickled, wrestled, and even massaged.
In our family, we have the “daily beatings.” My kids love the daily beating; when I get home, they often ask for it. They know that it means I will scoop them up, carry all three of them at once if I can, throw them on the bed, tackle them, tickle them, yank their toes, smush their faces with pillows, pretend to beat them up, and then give them their vengeance by letting them jump all over me. I can hardly think of anything more enjoyable than these moments.
Sure, every once in a while, someone gets hurt; I’ve gotten scratched, kicked in places I’d rather not discuss, and pulled a couple muscles. But it’s magical how fun and love provides an anesthetic for these minor wounds.
Although it shouldn’t need to be said, children have an absolute right to sexual integrity. They must never be violated sexually. So any kind of touch that breaks or confuses those boundaries should be avoided. But if you start with healthy, appropriate touch, that shouldn’t be a problem. If your child hasn’t ever had those boundaries broken, then even some massage is healthy. There is nothing wrong with a family sitting in bed watching a movie with everyone’s body close together, Dad stroking his daughter’s hair or Mom squeezing her son’s hands or feet.
If this sounds icky or inappropriate to you, think about why.
Some might object to what it might look like to others. Who cares?
Some might think that the child could misinterpret touch as sexual. Not likely—unless the child has previously had his or her sexual integrity disrespected.
Some might think that it could lead to pushing sexual boundaries later on. Nope.
Mom and Dad should lead this pattern by displaying lots of friendly, non-sexual touch. This signals to children that it is normal and healthy. Of course, sexual touch should be kept in private.
So go ahead and cuddle, kiss, hug, and even tickle your kid. They need it. You need it too.