Touch is a very powerful and important tool in working with children. It has the power to communicate warmth, concern and care to a child. When used with common sense and concern for the child’s benefit, it enhances trust and safety in a relationship, while affirming and reciprocating the child’s worth as a person. Healthy touch needs to be a conscious choice.
When touch is misused, it can become destructive to a child. The most common form of misuse is touching a child for our benefit rather than the child’s. All of us remember hiding from “Aunt Josephine” at the family reunions, lest we be smothered with hugs that we did not ask for or want. Certainly “Aunt Josephine” meant no harm, but her action made us want to avoid her. This created confusion in the child and a subtle sense of violation. It will also tend to make you an “unsafe” person in the child’s eyes. The misuse of touch is usually random and haphazard, with little thought given to the action.
Every child is different and comes from a variety of home backgrounds. There is no way to tell in the brief time you are with the children what is happening at home. Therefore, the principles of touch mentioned here should be modified for each child. Some may want and need more touch, while others will appear visibly afraid of any potential touching. Respect the child’s boundaries and focus on what they are telling you through their actions.
Since the exposure you have to kids in God’s Growing Garden and Planet NorthStar is limited, you are obviously not attempting to be a surrogate parent for these kids. Simply provide a warm, caring environment for them to learn and grow.
Also, as a rule, younger children communicate more via touch than do older more articulate children. Please be aware of a child’s personal space. Below you will find some specific guidelines that will help you in your use of touch.
Shoulders, hands, arms, head, back only
Sitting child on leg or knee only
Touching chest, genital region, upper legs, buttocks
Sitting child in center of your lap