From Dr. Jane's Notebook
Touch: Communication or Power?
Whenever a person touches another person, they communicate nonverbally. Touch is a
statement about the closeness or distance, and power hierarchy between people. Although
touch is a basic human need, it must be used wisely. Consider the following thoughts:
- Touch can be sexual or nonsexual. Different types of touch are appropriate to different
types of relationships. Most importantly, interpersonal touching should be voluntary and
comfortable to all parties involved. When you touch someone else's body, you may be
invading their space. With the exception of sexual relationships between consenting
adults, all other touch should be nonsexual in nature.
- Touch is an essential ingredient in a happy marriage. Touch is so important in a
marriage that people often feel unloved if they are not touched enough. Couples usually
stop touching each other when they no longer care for each other. Couples who are in
conflict with each other lose the ability to reach out and trust that they will be
comforted. If they are touch-starved, they may be attracted to someone who is
- Be careful of touch in the workplace. While shaking hands is a custom and sign of
respect, and a pat on the back can be a powerful reward for a job well done, most other
touching can lead to problems at work. If interpersonal feelings between co-workers are
not mutual, touch can be interpreted as sexual harrassment. If touch is mutually
desirable, it can be dangerous to mix business and personal relationships. Some excellent
friendships and work relationships have been spoiled by trying to make more out of them.
- Children need respect for their physical boundaries. Adults often set the limits on
touching children. We usually intend to express love when we touch our children, but
that's not always how our children feel about it. Sometimes physical touching feels
inappropriate to a child or young person, but they don't know how to set limits because
they love the adult and don't want to hurt their feelings or be rejected.
As a general rule, children should not be touched anywhere that a bathing suit covers
once they are out of diapers. Pre-adolescents and teenagers are especially insecure about
their growing bodies and do not want to be cuddled in the way they were as children. Let
them set the limits by allowing them to hug you or respecting their desire not to.
- There are different types of hugs. When our daughter began to grow up, she taught us
about the A-Frame or Neck Hug. This is a hug which takes place from the shoulders up.
There are also side-to-side hugs which are non-sexual, as opposed to the full-body hug.
There is a fine line between a sexual hug and a nonsexual hug.
Adolescents learn to say "no" at home! Most of us can recall having to kiss
or hug a relative who pinched us or smelled funny. Children appreciate when you keep your
hands off, and allow them the decision of whether they wish to be affectionate. If our
children can't set limits with us, how will they learn to set limits out in the rest of
the world. This is another important tool we need to give them during the years we get to
serve as their parents.
ęCopyright, 1994, 1995, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.
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Last Updated September 19, 1998 by Gary M. Grandon,