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Losing Touch: Revisiting the Importance of Touch and Physical Play in Childhood Development

By John C. Panepinto, PsychCentral, 09/23/19, 1:15PM CDT


Little things matter and add up over time. Even if touch is not your or your child’s love language, it is still an important expression of love and care.

Touch and physical play are instrumental to healthy child development in many domains. We are wired to move, to experience each other in space and time beyond words. In recent years, one such physical form of play has declined. Opportunities for children to engage in rough and tumble play have decreased, and in some circles the attitude towards its utility has taken a negative turn. Lines between the healthy aspects of physicality and harmful aggression appeared to have blurred. For this, a hands-off mentality has taken hold in many natural places of play.

Lost in the overly structured and “hands off” philosophy are opportunities for natural connection and the promotion of self-regulation. On the softer side, touch, whether a hug, a pat on the back or playful tap happens far less in the U.S. than other countries. Further, in schools and centers where children spend most of their days, touch is often discouraged. On the more active side, rough and tumble play is, for the most part, off-limits.