Touch, taste, sight, sound, smell. These five senses enable sentient beings to receive information and translate it into pleasure or pain, delicious or disgusting. This five-part series will discuss how fathers can employ their senses and teach their children to explore their own senses in healthy progressive steps.
Touch. From conception humans are intricately and intimately connected by touch. The contact of flesh to flesh causes brain activity to increase greatly. A simple hug can lower blood pressure, alleviate fear, and, to be frank, make is feel good. Hugging releases oxytocin. A natural feel good drug your brain emits during a good old hug.
“Oxytocin is a neuropeptide, which basically promotes feelings of devotion, trust and bonding,” DePauw University psychologist Matt Hertenstein told NPR. “It really lays the biological foundation and structure for connecting to other people.”
As a father, touch is a very natural thing with your newborn or young child. It is a wonder to embrace a freshly born babe. However, something can change in men as children age that causes them to be less physically affectionate. The tendency, as I have observed, is that it is not socially acceptable for men to kiss their teenage son’s head or to cuddle their adolescent daughters. Belief that doing this will inevitably lead to sexual abuse is a cultural lie that needs to be broken.
Dads that want to Father Further will need to share large sums of physical touch with their kids over an impersonal text message. This means less time for yard work, hobbies or after business hours work in order to provide our kids with the touch they need.
Here are three ways I recommend Fathering Further dads start:
1. Morning Greeting
It can be crazy right off the bat in morning to get the crew assembled for school and work and seasonal sports. Take a second to sit next to your kids in bed. Give them a hug or kiss and wake them gently. It might change their entire day having such a pleasant exchange from the get-go.
Each day that I drop off our kids at preschool I get down on my knees and hug them both, give kisses and say we say a prayer. It’s not a lot, but before we leave each other for a large portion of the day my kids KNOW I love them.
Learning a new skill takes time. It takes patience and practice. And sometimes it takes the guidance of a steady and experienced hand to “feel” how to properly execute the new skill.
Learning to throw a ball isn’t the most natural thing. A number of years back, on a church softball team, I met multiple men who were playing catch for the first time.They told me that their dad wasn’t involved in their life and it left an indelible mark. I heard people joke that they “threw like a girl” (which is a phrase that needs to go, because I know a few girls that throw harder than me). It was apparent that their dads lack of hands-on-treatment had stunted their ability to physically perform a task that most people presumed they could do.
3. PDA (public displays of affection)
Preface: Never embarrass your children.
It is one of the most precious things in the world to see a dad hug his child. Whether they won out lost the game. Give them a hug. If they earn an A+ or F-. Give them a hug. Your love transcends their performance in life.
Put your arm around your daughter in church or at dinner. Tell her you love her. Be normal. Be gentle. Dance with her. Don’t let your first dance with her be at her wedding. Make it the norm in your home to put on music and swing her around to both fast and show music. Your sons will see you treat your daughter and will treat other women similarly.
The way I connect with my son is more intense than with my daughter. He can wrestle harder, go faster on a bike and in general be more physical. Because of the difference in my kid’s preference for touch, I adapt to make sure that they receive physical touch in a loving way that they understand. My care should adapt to their needs, I should not expect them to receive physical touch however I feel is appropriate.
Give high fives and chest bumps. Make up a secret hand shake. Do something special that connects you in a personal way.
Take the time today to share your life for your kids through affectionate touch.
For further reading: Loving Touch Is Key to Healthy Brain Development