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Parental touch could help children with social anxiety

Posted May 27, 2018

It is difficult to put value on some things in life. For example, how did you feel when one of your parents touched you? Did your emotions change? Or maybe it meant nothing in terms of your psychological state? Scientists from University of Amsterdam and Utrecht University determined that parental touch may reduce children’s social anxiety.

Parental touch is especially important for younger children. Image credit: Kenneth Allen via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)

It doesn’t even have to be some sort of a hug or a kiss – even a gentle touch on the shoulder reduces children’s attention to social threat and increases trust. It is a signal that the environment is safe and not as threatening as a child may perceive it. It encourages to go exploring, which is very important in childhood. Scientists conducted their study with two groups of children – one consisted children in late childhood (ages 8–10) and the other one had individuals in early adolescence (ages 11–14). At first participants had to complete a questionnaire about their social anxiety while their parents were waiting in a different room. And then parents came – some touched their children then told them to move to another computer and walked them to another location.

Children were sat down behind a folding screen and had to complete another questionnaire – not they were answering questions about how threatening they perceived the world around them. They had to tell how they look at unfamiliar children and how much attention they paid to social threat. Those children who were touched on the shoulder by their parents paid less attention to social threats. Parental touch also raised trust among socially anxious children, while among non-socially anxious children it had the opposite effect. It is also interesting that scientists only noticed this effect in the group of younger children.  Researchers say that these results could have implication on future therapies.

Social anxiety is the most common mental disorder between children, but it is also the least treated one. Parental touch is a simple little remedy that costs nothing and is very easy to implement. Peter Bos, one of the authors of the study, said: “Parental touch may help these children overcome their fear and expose themselves to new situations. We know from previous research that exposure is one of the most effective ways of alleviating social anxiety”. However, some more research needs to be done.

Participants of this study did not have social anxiety disorder diagnosis. And so tests need to be done with children who are actually suffering from this condition. But regardless, even if it is not entirely effective, parents should not hesitate delivering gentle touch to their children – it definitely doesn’t have any negative consequences.


Source: University of Amsterdam

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