A Touching Way for Babies to Learn and Grow

by | Nov 17, 2023 | Inspirations

The importance of physical touch for newborns

With the births of my first two granddaughters, I witnessed how the medical professional in Canada and in Sweden encourage skin-to-skin contact between baby and parent immediately after birth and daily throughout the first few weeks and months of life. This comforting presence between parent and newborn is known to be healthy for attachment, stress reduction, and child development.

Increasingly we are learning how gentle touch impacts babies and their growth over time. In a recent study through the University of Washington  Andrew Meltzoff describes how the “touch center” in the baby brain becomes activated, not only when baby’s hand or foot is touched, but also when baby simply observes someone else’s hand or foot  being touched.

“Long before babies acquire spoken language, touch is a crucial channel of communication between caregivers and babies,” said the study’s primary author, Andrew Meltzoff.

“Before they have words for the body parts, babies recognize that their hand is like your hand, and their foot is like your foot. The neural body map helps connect babies to other people: The recognition that another person is ‘like me’ may be one of the baby’s first social insights,” Meltzoff explained.

Similarly parental responsiveness to babies’ coos, laughter, and cries encourages babies’ attempts to communicate. A baby can’t reach a favourite toy and cries in frustration. Dad turns to his crying baby and says “Bear? You want bear? Or do you want the rattle?” Dad’s reaction and words let the baby know that it is worthwhile expressing their feelings. Baby also begins to understand that communication is a two-way process that includes waiting for a response from someone else.

Rocking babies to lullabies, swaying or dancing with toddlers to music, and using tickle or bouncing rhymes make it easier for babies and toddlers to hear and repeat speech sounds too. Before children are ever able to link speech sounds with alphabet letters they must first hear the smaller speech sounds inside words. Songs and rhymes typically slow language down.  Songs and rhymes combined with movement help them hear and feel syllables and beats in words, supporting their ability to learn vocabulary through their senses of hearing and touch.

Wondering what a tickle rhyme is? It’s simply a poem that adds gentle touch or hugs to the rhyme and rhythm of the poem. Here is one example…

These are baby’s fingers. (Use your baby’s name.)

These are baby’s toes. (Touch baby’s fingers then toes.)

This is baby’s tummy button. (Touch baby’s belly button.)

Round and round it goes. (Draw circles on her tummy.)

Repeat the first three lines of the tickle rhyme and end with:

Right where Mommy (or Daddy, Grandpa etc.) blows. (Blow a big raspberry on your baby’s tummy.)

Gentle touch is a beautiful way to nurture babies’ ability to learn, grow and feel secure.