Tim Sanford, M.A. (Losing Control & Liking It)
Significant research has shown that babies need a lot of nurturing in order to thrive. But I think that nurturing is just as vital for our older kids and teenagers as it is was when they were babies.
My kids are no longer infants, but I still maintain daily, nurturing touch as much as possible. Although they rarely cry these days, I can tell when my kids are sad or upset about something. They’re quiet. They spend a lot of time alone in their room. They don’t smile or talk as much. Big kids often aren’t loud and demanding like babies, so they aren’t as obvious in their need for nurturing and attention to their emotional needs. Just like depressed adults, sad kids withdraw from other people and even behave in away to push you away. But they need our attention and nurturing.
I remember my then eleven-year-old daughter coming home from a sleep-over and saying that her friend told her, “My mom doesn’t tuck me in anymore.” My daughter felt sad for her friend, who still would have liked to be tucked in, but didn’t expect it anymore because she was “big.” No matter how old my children are, they still get a hug and kiss goodnight (if they’re staying up later than I am) or a proper tuck-in. In the case of the younger two (ages 10 & 12), a nightly story, back rub, and kisses are also part of the package. We also sometimes snuggle up with each other on the couch while watching T.V. or reading.
My kids know that a morning hug from mom is just part of their day, and they can’t get past me without it. I will keep up this routine even when my boys are surly, smelly teenagers. Even when they act like they don’t like it. Because, I know, deep down, they need it even if they don’t want it. In my un-researched, unproven hypothesis, teenagers who get plenty of loving touch at home are less likely to seek out fulfillment of this basic need elsewhere. I’ve just always thought that.
Idea for Catching up on Nurture: The Nightly Back Rub!
Is it possible to “catch up” on nurture if your child didn’t get it as an infant because you let them “cry it out”? I’m banking on the hope that you can catch up, because my twelve-year-old son (adopted 2 1/2 years ago) did not benefit from the same early nurturing and attachment that my other children received. I’ve been working hard to “catch up” with extra nurturing now. I hope it’s enough to help him gain relational skills he may be lacking due to his early deprivation.
If you’re out of the habit of connecting via nurturing touch, your kids may balk at having to start hugging or kissing you and think it’s “babyish.” So, I suggest you start with a back rub – everyone loves those! Even if you don’t call it “tucking in,” stop by for a nighttime chat and offer to give a backrub to your teenager. I’m betting they’ll like it and start asking for more!
And, I really think hugs are important. A lot of research has shown the positive impact hugs have on people of all ages: “Hugs have also been shown to improve overall mood, increase nerve activity, and a host of other beneficial effects. Positive physical touch has an immediate anti-stress effect, slowing breathing and heart rate.” (from Hugs & Heart Health)
So, a side benefit of hugging your kids more will be that it makes you happier, too!
These are some of the resources I used writing this article. Please let me know if you read about this topic in other places — I’d love more info!:
Losing Control & Liking It: How to set your teen (and yourself) free, Tim Sanford, M.A.
The Connected Child, Karyn B. Purvis, Ph.D.(Note: Although this book is geared towards adoptive parents, I found many applications to all kids.)