Childhood physical contact has been shown to be vital. So much so that if this does not happen, the good development of the child can be affected.
The human baby, compared to other descendants of other species, is more fragile and needs physical and emotional contact with its guardian in order to survive, grow properly, and develop one of the most remarkable characteristics. of the human being, as of being sociable beings.
This need for physical contact is already manifested in the first moments of life, being recommended the direct contact of the newborn with his mother, hand to hand contact, in order to more easily develop the bond between them, so important for growth. adequate child. This first physical contact will mark physical contact at later ages.
In this article we will see what pushes the child to seek this physical contact, as well as the importance it has in the good development of the child. and the alterations that may occur if there is not appropriate physical contact, if the supporting figure of the child is not present or is not adequately present.
Why physical contact in childhood is crucial
Physical contact between caregiver and child has been described as both a physical and an emotional need, being considered a key factor in ensuring the emotional and emotional security of the child. Likewise, benefits of physical contact have also been observed in other areas such as motor, cognitive and motor domain.
By conducting studies focused on the first years of an individual’s life, childhood, we have found that the satisfaction of basic needs such as physiological needs, the need to feel protected from dangers, the need to explore his environment, the need to play and the need to establish emotional ties.
In order to adequately meet these basic needs, the child’s physical contact with a representative figure will be essential. This need for contact with another person leads to the emergence of a bond between the child and the support person., a person who seeks to meet the needs of the child. This bond is known in psychology as an attachment.
Arguably, bonding leads to the need for physical contact, and physical contact is essential for the bond to continue to form properly, thus creating a secure hold. Likewise, emotional needs cannot be met without physical contact between the child and the hung figure.
What is hanging?
Attachment is defined as the emotional bond of a person or animal to another of the same species; this bond pushes them to be together in space and time. It is a long process, which begins to develop in the second month of life and lasts a lifetime. Although it seems that the most sensitive period, when separation anxiety can occur, is 6 months to 2 years.
The need for physical contact that the child has during early childhood will make him tend to approach the figure of attachment and thus maintain physical proximity and communicate with it.
The author who initiated the studies of hooking up was John Bowlby, who saw it as a purpose-driven (innate) biologically-influenced control system motivated by the need to feel secure. which means the hanging figure, for example, the parent, provides a secure base for the child to move around and explore the outside environment.
Ainsworth described three types of attachment: secure attachment, the most common and with which the child behaves appropriately, seeking contact with the parent and exploring the outside, and two forms of insecure attachment, the avoidance or rejection, the child is indifferent to the figure of the clinging and the ambivalent or resistant, remains close but at the same time resists contact.
Mention is also made of the disorganized attachment, which is a combination of the two insecure attachments, presented the child with contradictory behavior towards the mother.
It has been observed that the mother’s sensitivity to the child’s needs was of vital importance. Children with secure attachment had kind and receptive mothers who were not boring or abusing the child, exhibiting appropriate contact both physically and emotionally.
Studies that demonstrate the importance of physical contact
As we have already pointed out, Bowlby observed a tendency in young children to seek closeness, physical contact, with a representative figure, a particular relationship that the author calls attachment.
Other studies done with primates have supported the need for physical contact that puppies have. Harlow and Harlow observed that the main cause of bond formation, the attachment between baby chimpanzees and their mothers, was not the need to be fed, but the need for warm physical contact with the mother.
This fact is confirmed with the realization of a study where they separated the offspring from their hanging figure, to then let them choose between a cold doll but which provides them with food or a doll without food but covered with a soft plush toy. . The authors saw that the puppies showed a preference for the warm textured doll, corroborating the importance of good physical contact in the child.
Alterations in non-physical contact in boys and girls
The child is particularly vulnerable to the separation of the hung figure, which therefore leads to the loss of physical contact with it. We have seen that between the period of 6 months to 2 years this vulnerability intensifies; if the supporting figure is lost, it can cause physiological and psychological alterations in the child.. These effects can be divided into two groups depending on whether they occur in the short term or in the long term.
The child may experience stress, restlessness and symptoms of the depressive spectrum. Bowlby observed that the evolution of this anxious depressive clinic unfolds in three phases.
In the first phase called the protest phase, the child cries loudly and tries to escape, after a while, in the phase of ambivalence (or despair), if the hanging figure returns. child shows disinterest, finally in the phase of adaptation (or untying), if the conditions are favorable can develop a new bond.
If the child is unable to adjust to the separation and no new contact is made, the child may have intellectual retardation, problems with social relations and may even die.
Disorders due to lack of physical contact
As we have already mentioned, the lack of adequate physical contact between the child and the supporting figure will interfere with the correct appearance of the bond between them, the appearance of clinging will become more complicated. It has been shown that this alteration in attachment can lead to short-term alterations, some of which have already been mentioned, as well as to disorders at a later age.
Spitz observed that institutionalized children between 6 and 12 months old who had previously had a normal relationship with the mother. When this disappears, and therefore the child loses physical and emotional contact with it, depending on the length of this period, the child could show two different conditions.
In the first few months, after losing contact between 1 and 3 months with the support figure, the child presented with crying, withdrawal, weight loss and vulnerability to illness, an alteration that Spitz called depression. anaclitic.
If this loss of contact with the protective figure persists, after 3 or 5 months, the child may develop a hospital syndrome, exhibiting complete passivity, empty facial expression, developmental and intellectual retardation, even death, known as doldrums.
In this section we will mention two disorders linked to a deficient attachment, that is to say to a alteration of the link.
In both disorders, it is a common and indispensable requirement the presence of social neglect for these to occur and be considered as attachment disorders. This neglect is due to a lack of adequate care during childhood, characterized by social abandonment or lack of emotional stimulation, non-satisfaction of physical needs, repeated changes in the support figure, which does not allow bonding or parenthood in unusual places where physical and emotional contact is non-existent or very rare.
DSM 5, a diagnostic manual published by the APA, classifies two attachment-related disorders. First, reactive hanging disorder, is presented as an internalization disorder of depressive symptoms and through withdrawal behavior, children with this disease present both social and emotional impairment.
On another side, uninhibited social relationship disorder, as the name suggests, will be characterized by uninhibited behavior and outsourcing behavior.
- Sanz, LJ. (2018) CEDE PIR preparation manual: Evolutionary and pedagogical psychology. Yield: Edition 5ª.
- Alonso, V. (2018) CEDE PIR preparation manual: clinical child psychology. CEDE: 5ª Edition.
- López, N. (2021) The importance of physical contact in childhood. Nerea López team.
- Garrido, L. (2006) Hooking up, emotion and emotional regulation. Health implications. University of Chile.