The Influence of Touch on Child Development

It's probably not difficult for you to grab your child several times a day to hug her or plant a kiss on her cheek. In addition to being enjoyable, touching your child can also affect her growth and development. Research has demonstrated a connection between physical touch and normal growth, according to the AskDr.Sears website 1. It goes both ways, too. Children who are not touched can experience physical, mental and social delays that can last for years.

Physical Influences

Physical touch stimulates certain hormones that are responsible for your child's growth and development. According to the AskDr.Sears website, premature infants who are touched regularly display 47 percent more weight gain. When babies aren't touched, these hormones aren't released, which negatively affects development. Even babies who receive injections of growth hormones don't develop as well as babies who are held and massaged. Regular touch might also help treat and prevent certain medical problems such as constipation and muscular cramps, according to Marybetts Sinclair, author of "Pediatric Massage Therapy." 2

Mental Influences

In addition to helping the brain grow, physical touch has a powerful influence on brain function and mental health. When a child is touched by his parents, it can relieve fear and anxiety, and soothe hurt feelings. That's why babies often stop crying as soon as mom or dad picks them up and rocks them. When children don't receive physical touch to reassure them, soothe them or comfort them in times of distress, they are more likely to display anger and aggression, according to Sinclair. Touching your child also sends the message that he's loved, accepted and is a valuable member of the family. That improves his self-worth, which can help decrease the risk of depression. Regular physical contact improves sleep habits, too, and getting enough sleep is good for a child's overall mental health.

Parental Bonding

The bond between a parent and child relies a great deal on physical touch. A 2009 article published in the publication "Birth" notes that 25 to 120 minutes of physical contact, including breastfeeding immediately after birth, improves the bond between a parent and child one year later. Physical touch, such as infant massage, also allows a parent to get to know their child, which increases the feeling of connection and helps foster a positive relationship. Continued contact helps keep that bond strong as a child gets older.


It's easy to touch a baby regularly because you must come into contact with your child when you feed, bathe and dress him. Infant massage is another way to touch, and it usually involves rubbing a baby's tummy, back and feet as a way to soothe crankiness or calm a baby at bedtime. Older children benefit just as much as babies do. A simple back rub at bedtime or a shoulder massage after a rough day go a long way toward nurturing your child's development and increasing the bond you have. Hugging and kissing are essential, too. They let your child know he's loved, but they also help his body release the hormones necessary for continued growth.