Did you know that our skin is the largest organ in our body? I never thought about the skin as an organ, but it really is. We’ve all heard of organs such as the heart, liver, and lungs being transplanted. Skin is also transplanted when it is grafted onto burn victims. Like all other vital organs, our skin is necessary for our physical survival. Our organ of skin however is unique, in that receiving physical touch is necessary to our emotional survival. We’ve all heard stories of people being isolated in solitary confinement or on a prison death row. They talk about how they become starved for just the slightest human touch.
For children who have harmed and abused however, what is appropriate touch?
The answer to this question can be complex. Some children—especially those who have been sexually harmed—can be very indiscriminate in their desire for touch, approaching complete strangers for a hug or to be picked up. For these children, we must be gentle and firm in repeatedly teaching them what and who is appropriate and safe, and what/who is not appropriate or safe. Some children also have special needs such as a sensory disorder, where they recoil from touch. Yet others avoid touch out of self-preservation due to a past history of abuse.
For children who avoid touch, we must “follow their lead.” Giving hugs, and even pats on the back, and even sometimes a simple “high five” to a child must be earned in a safe, trusting relationship. A newly adopted or foster child may need time—possibly more time than you think—to trust you, his parent, in order to proceed from verbal trust to physical trust. This is especially true for daughters with their fathers. Parents, be patient and be observant. Always ask for permission for a hug (and even possibly for a “high-five”) when the time is appropriate. If your child is reticent to express physical affection, remember it is rarely a reflection on you as much as it is a reflection on where he or she has come from.