I grew up in a family where we hardly touched. Touching, let alone hugging or cuddling, was seen as “getting too close”. My husband grew up in a much more physically warm atmosphere. Even now, his father and he hug when they meet. We have a three-year-old son, and I am trying to find a balance, trying to become more of a natural hug-giver. What is your opinion about touch in families?
The word “touch” is used so often, in so many different contexts. We are “touched” by an event or a sight or someone’s words. We stay “in touch”. We “touch base”. We have “touchdowns”. We like some designer’s “touch”. We talk about a doctor’s “healing touch”. Films, television and literature talk about the thrill of “the lover’s touch”. We teach our children about the “right touch” and the “wrong touch”. We caution each other about not touching in the workplace, in case things are misinterpreted. And, in all this, we seem to forget the very basic, loving, assuring worth of healthy human touch. As a society, in our families, in our interactions, we simply do not touch each other enough.
Contact sport: How important is touch in your child’s life?
Every creature thrives on touch when it is born. Babies who spend their first few weeks in incubators and other life-support equipment miss out on the life-sustaining touch of their mothers. Adopted babies bloom and blossom as soon as a family embraces them. Good adoption centres take care to see that babies awaiting adoption are touched, cuddled and hugged by the staff. Old people yearn for touch, which goes out of their lives once their children and grandchildren grow up and move away.
As a society, we are encouraged to avoid touching our children once they reach a certain age. Siblings stop touching once they grow up. As we go higher up the “intellectual scale” of our society, we find less and less touch in daily family interactions. Physical demonstrations of affection are seen as “childish” or “unsophisticated” or “uncivilized”. Most people in our culture declare, “I’m uncomfortable with touching.” Strangely, many husbands and wives touch each other only if they are going to be sexually intimate.
And yet, many people privately say that even though they may have a healthy sex life, they really miss being touched in a non-sexual way by their spouses. A hug, a linking of arms, small rub of the shoulders, a pat on the head…that’s all they want, sometimes.
A good touch sends out 100 signals to the brain, the body, the mind and a person’s very being, and changes his/her entire sense of self.
The fact is: We are all starving for touch, and we need to do something about it. It doesn’t mean going about hugging and patting everyone indiscriminately! What we need to do is include touch in a warm relationship that already exists. While a 14-year-old son is bound to jump away from you if you hug and kiss him as he sets out for school, you can quite easily and gradually change over from the hugs and kisses of his toddler and child days to possibly just a small pat, or a hug before bed… Fathers need to hug their daughters too, however much we are brought up to think this taboo. Girls who are touched assuredly, unawkwardly, by their fathers are much less likely to get into inappropriate physical contact with boys at the wrong age.
Do include touch as part of your investment in any relationship — marital, parental, with your pet, with a close friend, with nieces, nephews, with ailing or old people… and see how the relationship invariably changes for the better.
My seven-year-old daughter is a friendly, sensitive child. She loves all forms of dance, and I can say with all fairness that she is good at it. However, her dance teacher in school doesn’t pick her for competitions or school functions. There are a couple of kids who are regulars, and my daughter can’t figure out why they can participate and she can’t. When I enquired at the school, I came to know that the teacher selects kids who attend her private classes. I do not want to send my daughter to this moneymaking centre, and so, it seems, she will continue to be ignored by the teacher. How do I explain the concept of partiality to my little girl?
Teaching children to deal with unfairness and insensitivity from the adult world, especially from teachers and other “guru” figures, is possibly one of the most complex (and unpleasant) demands of parenting.
What a pity that your daughter has had to come up against this insensitive and opportunistic dance teacher. I do wish such lessons about discriminatory people and situations did not have to be learnt so young. However, since she is facing such a situation, you’ll have to teach your daughter how to take this in her stride.
For starters, you could consider sending her to another dance class, quite different and more evolved than the one she attends in school. Look for a nice, sensitive soul who teaches dance, and I’m hoping that that is not a rare species — which it probably is not! This way, at least, our kids don’t conclude that the unfairness they may face from one person translates immediately and decisively into absence of opportunities everywhere.
Even more important — and tricky — is to help our kids pay less attention to being “selected” by such people, and to simply enjoy the dance, or any such activity, for itself. This is easier said than done, given the prevailing atmosphere of “excelling” and “performing” and “picking up prizes”. And all kids quite naturally want so much to be liked and appreciated by their teachers.
When dealing with this kind of situation, you have to find a fine balance. Without actually scoffing openly at the teacher or telling your child that the teacher and her opinions and decisions don’t mean a thing in the larger context, you have to subtly convey this to your child.
It won’t do (and is not easy either) to tell our kids to take a very lofty, detached stand, and continue doing their dance (or sport, or other hobby) for “its own sake”. Some parents, in teaching their child to cope with prejudice, go out of their way to inculcate an abstract view of things with elaborate advice such as, “Just close your eyes, and keep doing your own thing, don’t look for the fruits and rewards.” Such quasi-philosophical methods don’t cut much ice with a child. It would be much better to a) just acknowledge that the teacher seems to be unfair and biased b) find other more sensitive people for their pursuits.
It is also important, for yourself and your child, not to get into the victim mode, with cynical statements such as, “It is a cruel harsh world out there,” or “True talent is rarely recognized, it is only pushy people who get ahead.”
The balance lies in helping your child to not take her teacher’s opinions as seriously as she does her own interests. This is difficult for most adults to follow and even more intricate to impart to a child. But it is worth the effort, as you will be enabling your child to look and grow past people and situations such as these.
Three mothers tell us how they tackled teacher bias
Avita was scolded by her class teacher, even though it was another child’s fault. She says that the teacher never scolds this other girl because she “likes her”. Instead of rushing to the school, I told my daughter that perhaps the teacher did not realize whose fault it was because she was busy, and that she likes my daughter too.
- Namita, mother of six-year-old Avita
My son told me that his teacher had special names for some of the children in class and did not have one for him. It upset him very much. So, I went to the school and requested that my child be called by a special name that we use for him at home. Fortunately, the teacher understood my point.
- Suruchi, mother of five-year-old Vivaan
For the student body elections, my daughter was expecting to be nominated by her class teacher. But the teacher chose another girl. My daughter was upset. I sat her down and told her that if she felt the teacher’s actions were not justified, we could both draft a note and submit it to the school. I pointed out that by not getting nominated, she would have more time for activities. Eventually, she chose not to write that note.
- Punita, mother of 17-year-old Arti
Send your queries to Gouri at firstname.lastname@example.org