Mr. Tough Guy Still Needs Mommy’s Touch

Kathy’s son Jason was seven years old and chronically jealous of his younger brother, Matt, who was three. Although Jason was talented, smart, socially successful and athletic, and Matt was sweet and easygoing, Jason just seemed to have it in for Matt. He just couldn’t stand his adorable little brother, and never missed an opportunity to tease or hit him. Jason’s attacks were often unprovoked, and the constant bullying was sending both Matt and their mom, Kathy, over the edge.

Your Child Still Needs Your TouchPunishments, recriminations, and even attempts at behavior modification charts and systems were not working. Kathy knew she had to try something new. She racked her brain, trying to figure out why Jason hated his brother so much.

His tormenting went well beyond normal sibling rivalry and bordered on real loathing. What was at the bottom of it? She couldn’t figure it out, but there was one thing she knew: something had to change.

During her long moments of introspection, Kathy realized something: she almost never touched Jason affectionately.

  • Maybe because he was now a rough-and-tough, soccer-toeing, buddy-wrestling seven-year-old
  • Maybe because he was such a handful at home
  • Maybe because he was always too angry to be hugged

Whatever the reason, Kathy felt as if a light bulb had gone off in her head. She had a strong feeling; her gut was telling her that “touch” was the missing piece of the puzzle.

She decided to put Jason on a “touch diet,” and resolved to start it right away. The next morning, when she stumbled, bleary-eyed out of bed, she found Jason reading in the hallway. Instead of grunting to the kitchen for her coffee, she stopped, put her arms around him, and held him for a few minutes. “Good morning, sweetie,” she murmured, “So happy to see you. Love you so much.”

Jason did not resist. A few minutes later, on her way back from the kitchen, she saw him smiling to himself.

After that, Kathy made sure to touch Jason and caress him at several other times during the day. She also smiled a lot, complimented him, and repeatedly told him how much she loved him, in several different ways. She continued to do this every day.

After four days of this, Kathy saw a dramatic change in the dynamic between her boys. With no other intervention, Jason and Matt were suddenly getting along. They were playing games together, building constructs with their toys, and play-fighting instead of hurting each other. On the fifth day, Kathy saw Jason reading a story aloud to his little brother. Two weeks later, Jason taught Matt to roller-blade. They still got into occasional spats, but the intense hatred Jason had felt toward Matt had all but disappeared.

Kathy’s story is one hundred percent true, an anecdote that I have firsthand knowledge of. It is anecdotal evidence to a timeless truth: your child still needs your touch. S/he never stops needing it. Although no longer a baby or toddler, your child will continue to need loving touch and affirmations of love from you. It is the mainstay of his/her sense of security and happiness, and it helps your child thrive.

As your child grows into a teen, you will do less hugging but more of other kinds of touch. A pat on the back, a little squeeze of the hand. Momentary connections, verbal affirmations of love, and small acts of kindness help your teen be the best s/he can be. Make a conscious effort not to neglect these things, because it is so easy to forget. If you need to, put your child on a “touch diet” and see if anything changes. You may be pleasantly surprised.

By Chaya Glatt