One of the most exciting studies I’ve ever read came from a supplemental reading list for a psychology class at college. Touching: The Human significance of the skin by Ashley Montagu was a real eye opener for me. Her research and application for everyday life was spot on. If you don’t mind reading a really good textbook, I suggest you give it a try.
I’d like to point out one study she cited in the chapter, “Tender, Loving Care”. She was discussing the importance of holding, touching, singing and talking to your child. She used the example of the Children’s Clinic in Dusseldorf during World War I.
Dr. Henry Dwight Chapin was a distinguished New York pediatrician. He began to notice that more than half the infants died in the first year of life from a disease called Marasmus which is Greek for “wasting away.” It was an infantile atrophy or debility. It was as if the babies simply didn’t want to survive. In the early 1900’s the death rate for infants in various foundling homes – in the United States– was almost 100%! Those were staggering statistics.
Determined to find a reason and possible cure, Dr. Chapin visited the Children’s clinic in Dusseldorf where they were having remarkable results with ailing children. After seeing all the wards and talking with personnel, he was taken back by a fat old woman who was washing the floor and had a baby on each hip. “Who’s that?”
Dr. Schlossman, the director, explained that it was “Old Anna”. “When we have done everything we can medically for a baby and it is still not doing well, we turn it over to Old Anna and she is always successful.” Old Anna held, rocked, cooed, sang and even worked with children strapped to her hip or back. Old Anna was a master at fulfilling the need for touch.
America at that time operated under the teachings of Emmett Holt, Sr. Professor of Pediatrics at New York Polyclininc and Columbia University. He insisted that parents should get rid of the cradle, not pick their child up when it cried, feed it by the clock and do not spoil it with cuddling or holding. Tender loving care was considered unscientific and outdated. Under his teachings babies continued to die from Marasmus.
After World War II studies were heightened to discover the cause of Marasmus. It was found in the “best” homes, hospitals and institutions. In contrast babies in the poorest homes lacking in hygienic physical conditions often overcame physical handicaps and flourished. The difference – it was determined – was a generous supply of motherly love.
The conclusion of all studies was that in order to survive and be both mentally and physically successful – a baby needs the power of touch. It should be handled, carried, caressed, cooed to and cuddled. In other words, your baby must experience a heavy dose of loving motherly skin on skin touch to survive and be healthy.
In his book Psychosocial Medicine, James L. Halliday writes: “As the first few months following birth may be regarded as a direct continuation of the intrauterine state, there is need for continuance of close body contact with the mother to satisfy the requirements of the kinesthetic and muscle senses. This requires that the baby be held firmly, nursed at intervals, rocked, stroked, talked to and reassured.”
If you must work, pay close attention to the time your child is left alone in a daycare crib. When you arrive home in the evening be sure and take the time to hold and reassure your child.
Reading this study again makes me wonder if SIDS isn’t a contemporary form of Marasmus. While I’m sure scientists have considered this, it does make the Mommy Detective scratch his/her chin and ask deeper questions.
We might also ask “why” or add this to our Decoder Maps when we see early childhood problems like ADD, ADHD, withdrawal symptoms, fear, anxiety and anger issues developing in those early years.
Are our children spending more time alone at daycare – even though they are surrounded by people?
Do they need more skin on skin touching than pre-school workers can deliver?
Are we pushing early learning techniques when we should be holding and talking one on one with small children?
These are questions we should be asking as we develop Decoder maps for our children. Also, when you begin your Intervention Maps, perhaps you should ask – “Is it more productive to hold my child than to administer more rules?”
FYI – My daughter Amie (a twin) was having a tough time responding to us when she was just six months old. She frowned and rarely laughed. Even her pediatrician was a bit concerned. I began to hold her more. We took naps together and she snuggled close even when I was folding clothes or doing other chores. I sang to her, provided plenty of one on one face time and laughed gently in her ear while she was sleeping. Within two weeks she became a happy and giggling baby. Touch is a miracle salve.