The power of touch and why it’s important

How often do you touch someone and are touched in return? And I don’t mean in a sexual sense, though that is important too.

As children, we often touch other children and, of course, are hugged and caressed by our parents. We are hugged goodnight, hugged when we fall down and graze our knees and hugged as we share our disappointments and failures.

I have a strong memory of brushing and combing other children’s hair at primary school. We lined up and took it in turns to play with each other’s hair, brushing it, braiding it – an innocent yet important visceral experience.

Nowadays having my hair washed at the hairdresser is the best part of a haircut, waiting for her to knead my scalp and rub in the shampoo.

Hard-wired for touch

Our bodies seem to be hard-wired for touch and to deprive someone of that is to inflict cruel punishment. The arbiters of solitary confinement are well aware of that.

Children kept in orphanages years ago and rarely cuddled were all found to be deprived of emotional growth and intellectual capacity. The aged in nursing homes find this deprivation some of the worst features of ageing. Many homes now provide massages in an effort to ameliorate that loss.

Often times it is the small touches, the holding of a hand, the brief hug, the quick peck on the cheek, that become so important in our daily lives. This is especially true as we age and as many of us live alone.

A friend whose son tragically died recently has found the touch of a grandchild to be both empathetic and therapeutic.

Her young granddaughter has no qualms about talking about her grandmother’s loss, while the rest of the family tiptoe around the issue.

“Do you think the fairies are looking after him?” she innocently asks and freely gives hugs and care to her grandmother.


They bond on the most basic of levels and this touch has helped sustain my friend’s very psyche, her very existence, during a long and painful grief.

As I waited in hospital for surgery months ago, one of my daughters stayed with me, kindly refusing to go home until they wheeled me away.

We had hours to wait and she suggested watching a film on her phone.

She climbed into bed next to me, and we huddled together, the old and the young, my progeny next to me, watching The Devil Wears Prada, a wonderful piece of distraction and excellent acting. Without that time of cuddles and touch I would have been a screaming mess before the surgeon’s knife.

Teaching moment

Teachers know the power of touch and it is sad to think that many men refuse to go into the profession, especially in the primary years, when any hug or touch of a young child can be misconstrued. The profession is top heavy with women who are allowed to hug and console, especially the preppie kids, the teachers’ nurturing, mothering instincts seen as normal and safe.

On my travels in south-east Asia, I often noticed that people routinely groomed each other. Sitting on small plastic stools, women would braid each other’s hair or give shoulder massages. The stiff upper lip English tradition that we have inherited has not really caught up with the value of touch. Perhaps if we all embraced massages, we would cope better with our lives and our world.

So, hug your friends and family more – for your own health if not for theirs.

Is touch important to you? Is it something that is missing more and more from your life as you’ve aged? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Also read: A tragic, but saucy, tale from hospital


  1. Sadly not even women teachers can touch children anymore and as a retired nurse I would be careful too nowadays.
    I believe touch is incredibly important particularly with older people. I don’t know what I would do without my Grandchildrens’ hugs. I believe it is vitally important for good mental health.

  2. I was a pre-school teacher in the UK when cuddling children was allowed. And oh was it needed!. One example (of many), a West Indian immigrant family, their beautiful 3 year old boy had cigarette burns on his arms and legs. I contacted child services and reported the abuse. “Are the burns fresh?” I was asked (WHAT!?) “No” I said. “We know the mother burnt the child in the school holidays so the burns are partially healed when the child came back to school.” What did child services do, NOTHING – the burns weren’t fresh. That child needed so much love and touch. That child would be in his 50s now if still alive, and my heart still aches for him.

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