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The Power of Touch

“If the gestures of the adult are not gentle and tender, but indifferent, quick, 'professional,' if the hand that lifts, holds, carries the infant does not provide security…then the physical contact will not mean pleasure but uncertainty and distress to the child. If the adult wants to get over with the feeding, the changing of the diaper, the bathing, the dressing quickly, the child will not only feel the abrupt mechanical moves unpleasant, but they will also feel that the time spent together is dreary for both of them.”

-The RIE Manual for Parents and Professionals

A caregiver’s touch is the infant’s window out of their own body and into the world. It defines the quality of the relationship between caregiver and child, and gives the infant their first glimpse of the world at large.

The way we touch sends a message. Is the world a rushed, clumsy place where people focus more on getting things done than on forming relationships? Or is the world a gentle place, where people care about each other’s needs and want to take time to enjoy each other?

We can provide the physical security a child needs by lifting from underneath a child’s center of gravity (under the bottom of a sitting or standing child, or along the head and spine of a lying down child) allowing fully supportive weight distribution. In this way, the baby never feels unstable or insecure when we hold them.

We can provide the emotional security a child needs by touching them gently, slowly, while paying attention to their cues. In this way, we are sending the message that we enjoy the baby and spending time with the baby, even when changing a messy diaper.

There are lots of opportunities to practice this skill: changing the diaper of a crying baby, wiping a baby’s nose for the 30th time that day, trying to get out the door on time, intervening between two struggling children… How we touch the child in those moments is defining our relationship with them, and their relationship with the world.


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