There are so many ways of giving children love, but when I think about giving my little boy love, I think mainly about giving him lots of hugs and cuddles. This makes me think about one of our 7 senses – The Tactile sense or rather the Tactile system.
The tactile system refers to our sense of touch and starts to develop as early as eight weeks in a baby while in their mother’s tummy. At approximately 10 weeks in the womb, the baby has feeling in the palms of their hands.
The tactile system provides information related to shape, size and the texture of objects that are felt on the skin. This information allows for a better understanding of one’s surroundings.
In the 14th week of being in the womb, the baby is able to feel touch all over their body except their back and head. The tactile system is developed early on in the womb to help the baby with sensations such as temperature, pain and proprioception. This system functions as a protection and discriminatory system.
When a baby is born, they are able to perceive pressure, pain and temperature. The tactile system is extremely sensitive and easily over-stimulated at a young age.
Some children experience tactile defensiveness (an aversion to non-harmful touch), and behaviours which can be noted and result from over-stimulation of the tactile system include pulling away from stimulus such as hugs, squirming, crying, inability to settle or get comfortable, some children even experience feeding aversions.
Tactile defensiveness can affect relationships with parents, caregivers and siblings due to the child not wanting to receive tactile input and not wanting to be touched or hugged.
Tactile defensiveness can lead to other developmental delays as children for example do not like clothing touching their skin and thus do not learn to dress themselves or they take longer to crawl as they do not like the grass or carpet touching their legs.
They may dislike art projects that include finger-painting, glue and clay due to the tactile stimulation art projects enhance. These children may appear impulsive, hitting others, but no one understands that they are fighting against their perceived invasion of space, interpreted by their brain. They may dislike group games like tag or touches, or holding hands in a circle can be agonizing for them, as they may be afraid of the possibility of being touched by another child. Which makes them want to stand apart from others and this prevents them from being able to interact with friends and family members appropriately.
Touch is a powerful sense and it is how most parents show love and affection to their children. How do we positively impact our child, if we cannot hug them or show them love using touch?
Here are a few types of sensory inputs that are calming, and may help your child cope with avoiding touch:
- Slow rhythmic movement such as swinging or rocking in one direction e.g. back and forth or side to side.
- Deep pressure to muscles and joints e.g. massage or firm squeezing.
- Heavy work activities (Proprioceptive activities) – those that include heavy work to muscles, traction or compression through joints, or strong contraction of muscles around joints.
We positively impact our children with love by helping them overcome their tactile defensiveness.
“Our brain is mapping the world. Often that map is distorted, but it’s a map with constant immediate sensory input.” – E. O. Wilson
Please contact me if you feel your child may be struggling with their sense of touch!
Nicole Rothfusz (Paul)
Baby Steps Early Learning Centre Occupational Therapist
Phone: +27 83 430 1627