The Importance of Touch for Babies
Touch is Calming and Alerting: One of the first ways we relate to our babies is through touch. Certain types of touch calm our babies and other types of touch are alerting. Both calm states and alert states are important for babies at different points of the day. Deep and even pressure, such as a massage is calming, while light tickling is alerting. Providing your baby with a variety of touch experiences will enhance his/her ability to process touch sensation and respond appropriately rather than over- or under- respond. Examples of appropriate responses to touch are a child turning to someone who taps them and enjoying playing in a sandbox or with Play-Doh. Inappropriate responses are pulling away when being tapped on the shoulder or avoiding standing on line (over-responsive) or accidentally bumping into walls and other people (under-responsive).
Touch Teaches Babies How to Move their Bodies: Ever notice how newborn babies move their arms and legs randomly, and often in a jerky manner? This is because they have not yet learned how their body parts are connected or how to control them. As babies develop they gain control over the different parts of their bodies and move them in an increasingly fluid way. Ultimately they turn into toddlers and young children who can master playground skills and sports. All of these skills start with body scheme and body awareness. Touch plays an important role in developing body awareness. As babies are handled, hugged and stroked they learn where their knees are in relation to their feet and how their hands are connected to their arms.
Touch Teaches Babies about Body Awareness and Proximity: As babies experience touch, they begin to sense the limits of their bodies and understand where their body ends and another person's begins. This allows a child to sense how close or far away people are. In order to tolerate being in a crowded environment without feeling threatened and navigate within the environment without bumping into people children rely on their tactile sense along with vision to judge distance distance. Just as we need experience to learn the size and boundaries of a car when learning to drive for the first time, babies needs tactile experiences to learn the boundaries of their bodies in order to navigate efficiently in their environment.
Some ideas for tactile play:
Give your baby an infant massage. Check out our infant massage blog here.
Let your baby immerse his/her hands in food
Encourage “messy play,” such as sand, finger paint, Play-Doh and glue
Have toys that are a variety of sizes, shapes and textures
Use bath time to introduce sponges of different textures, splash in the water and play with funny foam and tub paint. Hide foam stickers on your child’s body and ask him/her to look for them.