What do Monkeys have to Teach Us About Motherhood?

What do you think is more important for a healthy development: food or human contact? Psychologists have studied this question in depth for years, starting with Harry Harlow’s experiments with Rhesus Monkeys. Harry Harlow spent years looking into rhesus monkey’s developmental patterns and social bonding skills. Through his study, he came to the conclusion that touch and maternal contact is just as important, if not more important than food when it comes to healthy development.

In his experiment, Harry Harlow raised monkeys in isolation. They had no contact with mother figures, friends, or family members. Instead, the monkeys had two surrogate mother figures, one made entirely out of wires, and one covered in cloth. Throughout the experiment, he gave the monkey the choice between the two mothers in multiple scenarios. What he found was that the baby monkeys continuously chose the cloth covered mothers, only going to the wire mothers when food was absolutely necessary. You can read more about this study here.

This study is an important part about what changed our approach to bonding and relationships. Through analyzing this study and its results, psychologists and doctors came to the conclusion that touch is necessary for survival, not just a pleasantry in early childhood. This is made obvious in encounters with children who are denied maternal contact in their early months. Hospitals who don’t promote holding and contact immediately after birth often have higher mortality rates than those that encourage nurses to interact with the babies physically.1

Holding your baby is so much more than just a sweet moment between parent and baby. A mother’s touch changes a child’s life for the better, making them more able to build relationships, handle stress, understand other people’s emotions, and connect on a deeper level with more people. Who knew monkeys could teach us this much!


  1. Takeuchi, Mika S., et al. “The Effect of Interpersonal Touch During Childhood on Adult Attachment and Depression: A Neglected Area of Family and Developmental Psychology?” Journal of Child and Family Studies, vol. 19, no. 1, 24 Feb. 2009, pp. 109–117., doi:10.1007/s10826-009-9290-x.

A Tip for Stress-Free Development

While it may be hard to believe, children experience stress just like we do as adults. We, as adults, have had plenty of time to learn how to manage stress, babies have not. While some people argue that a glass of wine a day is enough to keep away stress or working out regularly is the best way to remain stress free, babies don’t have the ability to do these things! So, what is the key to a stress-free childhood? Is it a glass of warm milk? A mommy and me gymnastics class? It’s none of these things. One thing is especially important to having a stress-free and relaxing childhood: touch! That’s right, one simple touch reduces stress in everyone, but especially children.

If you don’t believe me, just ask the doctor! Doctors believe that children who are calmed with touch learn what the emotional regulation process is like and therefore are able to calm themselves better later on in life. Not only does a touch calm a child in the moment, but it reduces stress far into adulthood. Touch helps children manage stress when faced with anxieties. So, picking up your baby when they start to cry gives them a change to learn how to calm themselves down in the future. Additionally, touch helps prevent pain in the baby. A study performed in 2000 found that “full-term babies who were held close by their mothers during a heel lance or stick — a simple, minimally-invasive procedure used to gather blood samples — cried and grimaced less than babies who were swaddled in a crib during the procedure, and their heart rates were also more relaxed.”1 Babies benefit from touch from the moment they are born and provide caregivers and parents with similar benefits as well. Holding a baby reduces maternal stress and builds a relationship between the baby and the holder.

Every moment of touch gives a child an opportunity to mature, learn, and cope better. Meaningful touch is necessary for survival and a healthy life as they grow!


  1. Pearson, Catherine. “The Incredible Benefits Of Simply Holding Your Baby Close.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 23 Oct. 2015, www.huffpost.com/entry/the-incredible-benefits-of-simply-holding-your-baby-close_n_5626700fe4b08589ef491176.

When it Comes to being a Dad, Kangaroos Got it in the Pocket

I know what you’re thinking. “What could a kangaroo POSSIBLY know about being a dad?” While giving your child to a Kangaroo probably won’t win you the “father of the year” award, we have a lot to learn from the way kangaroos care for their babies. Female kangaroos have a pouch that they carry their babies in, keeping them close and in contact as much as possible. While male kangaroos don’t have a pouch, human fathers have used the idea of a Kangaroo pouch to form strong and meaningful relationships with their children. Kangaroo care is the idea of integrating as much skin-to-skin contact into a relationship between an infant and parent. A small study performed in 2007 exploring the relationship between fathers and babies found that fathers who held their babies to their chest had an immediate effect on their babies. Doctors also stated that skin to skin contact between a baby and their father is what creates the bond between them.

Skin to skin contact is not just beneficial for the child. Holding a child changes the mental state of the child and holder and leads to a healthier life for both. Additionally, studies have shown that babies who received Kangaroo Care (KC) have “more predictable sleep patterns; steadier respiration and heart rates; and better affective attention—or the ability to direct their gaze and actions toward a goal.”1 Consistent, positive physical contact ensures a strong relationship between baby and parent through adulthood. So many small details come together to allow parent and baby to connect and build an intimate relationship full of loving touch. While children are born with a deep connection to their mother already, a child must form a deeper relationship with their father upon entering the world. Holding a child against the fathers chest promotes the bond between father and child throughout childhood and into adulthood.

Jesus first experiences touch as any other child would, being held in the arms of his mother, Mary. This first moment of touch not only prepares us for Jesus’ ministry in obedience to God throughout his life on earth, but also introduces us to the idea of touch in his ministry. Jesus’ touch in this story sets the scene for a lifetime of touch that culminates in the soul saving touch of the crucifixion. The completion of the purification process through Jesus’ circumcision fulfills the purification process of all babies for the rest of time. Later in Jesus’ ministry here on earth, he is approached by a Pharisee, Nicodemus, in the middle of the night. Jesus states, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Though it is impossible to be physically reborn, we are asked to be like infants in our faith and in our love. We are asked to enter into the arms of our father God just as we enter into the arms of our earthly fathers.

Touch is a necessary part of building a relationship between a father and child. It builds the bond a healthy relationship rests on for the rest of the child’s life! Kangaroo’s might not be able to raise our children, but we are lucky to have learned what we have from them!

  1. Kluger, Jeffrey. “How Cuddling Saves Tiny Babies.” Time, Time, 8 Jan. 2014, time.com/504/how-cuddling-saves-tiny-babies/.

Syncing Brainwaves and Building Relationships

Babies are some of the most powerful, powerless, beings on our planet. The small giggle, sigh, or whimper of a baby is enough to get even the largest, hardhearted person to make silly faces and noises. Babies catch the attention of many people as soon as they enter the room. Why? Because we, as humans, are created to interact with babies. They have more of an effect on us than we are capable of knowing.

I don’t know if its the same for everyone, but when a baby is in the room I just can’t take my eyes off of them. When a baby catches the eye of someone its almost impossible to look away. Those big eyes hold yours until they look away. Making eye contact with babies is more than just a cute moment with a passing stranger, though. Eye contact has a huge impact on the relationship between parent and baby. Recent studies have shown that eye contact syncs the brain waves of the two people. The study found that “during live (bidirectional) social interactions (experiment 2), there were significant and bidirectional patterns of influence between adult and infant.”1 When adults and babies make eye contact, the brains waves of both are synced. However, its not the brain of the adult changing the brain of the baby, as most would assume, both brains are affected. The adult’s brain does not control the baby’s, nor does the baby’s control the adult’s. Instead, they meet in the middle and change to complement each other. Other studies have shown that “shared patterns of brain activity may actually pave the way for better communication between baby and adult.”2 Eye contact syncs baby and adult, making it easier for them to understand each other; something that is important in any relationship.

Gazing happens most consistently during breastfeeding

While eye contact is easily held without touch in adulthood, it is a different story with infants. When babies are born, they cannot focus their eyes on anything more than 8-10 inches away, the average distance from chest to face on an adult. Babies do what is called gazing. It is often most noticeable at feeding time, when the baby can only see the mothers face. It is the exact distance that it needs to be away so that the baby is able to focus on the eyes of their mother during breastfeeding. It is recommended that a mother breastfeed her baby within the first hour of birth if it is possible. This small moment of touch between mother and baby begins the relationship building process. As a baby grows their eyesight gets better, allowing them to see father away. The more they can see, the more they make eye contact with the important people in their lives.

The connection between holder and baby during eye contact draws our eyes to the love of our divine creator. God created babies knowing their little eyes would only be able to see so far and created mothers with this in mind. The distance a baby can see being the distance from a mothers chest to her eyes is not a mere coincidence! The touch needed to build relationships, is also needed to make eye contact sync brain waves.

The first instance of touch in Jesus ministry is done in accordance with the law. As an infant, he is brought to the temple to complete the purification process of the time. He is handed to Simeon, a righteous and devout man, to fulfill the prophecy spoken over Simeon’s life. Not only did Jesus humble himself from God to a body that couldn’t even control its bowels, but he also submitted himself to the law, and allowed a devout old man to hold him. Simeon held Jesus and presumably looked into his eyes, which allowed their brain waves to sync. Simeon knew that he was looking into the eyes of his savior. The first documented touch in the life of Jesus is the last documented touch in the life of an old man; a meaningful moment between savior and saved.

  1. Leong, Victoria, et al. “Speaker Gaze Increases Information Coupling between Infant and Adult Brains.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 114, no. 50, 2 Nov. 2017, pp. 13290–13295., doi:10.1073/pnas.1702493114.
  2. Sanders, Laura. “Is This Why We Love Gazing into a Baby’s Eyes?” The Washington Post, WP Company, 10 Dec. 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/is-this-why-we-love-gazing-into-a-babys-eyes/2017/12/08/716c653a-daaf-11e7-a841-2066faf731ef_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.ba86a4646b4f.

The Importance of Touch

A pat on the back, a comforting hug, an unnoticed brush in a crowded room: these are small everyday instances of touch that are usually taken for granted. Small touches like these play a huge role in our mental and physical health and impacts the way we perceive and interact the world around us. Although touch has been largely ignored in past psychological research, it has become a popular topic in recent years. Many studies on touch and its psychological implications have been performed with interesting and surprising results.

The touch of a parent sets in motion the life of a child: healthy and full of touch

Touch plays a huge role in the life of every person. Physically, the sense of touch “protects our body by signalling [sic] potential danger and requiring us to make a prompt response.”1 While other senses play a role in protecting the body, touch is the last defense between us and the outside world. In addition to protecting us from potential dangers, touch connects us to the world around us. It allows us to build relationships and interact with other people and things. The first relationship we have is formed by the loving touch of our mother as she holds us to her chest after birth. That small moment of touch is enough to calm the baby and start the relationship building process in the brain of the child. A recent study found that a parent’s touch “establishes infant’s feelings of security, elicits positive emotions (e.g., smiling), and modulates children’s emotions and distress behaviors (e.g., crying; Beider & Moyer, 2007; Field, 2010; Hertenstein, Verkamp, et al., 2006).”2 The touch of a parent allows for a child to feel safe and happy and to handle stress in a positive and healthy way. The opposite can be seen in hospitals and clinics where nurses are not encouraged to interact with a new baby physically; there is a jump in the mortality rate from babies who received adequate touch in their first weeks and those who had little to none. Many psychologists are suggesting that touch should be regarded as a necessity for survival, not just a desire.

Physical touch is a necessary part of human life. Though the psychology of touch is not heavily researched, scientists have been coming to the conclusion that touch is necessary for survival as they have learned more about it. It plays a major role in childhood development and has lasting effects on mental and physical health. Touch is much more than just a romantic want and is not without a deeper purpose. God made us with the ability to interact physically. The way touch impacts our emotional, physical, and spiritual development points to the importance of touch in our lives.

  1. Gallace, Alberto. “Living with Touch.” The Psychologist, vol. 25, Dec. 2012, pp. 896–899., thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-25/edition-12/living-touch.
  2. Rancourt, Kate M., et al. “Children’s Immediate Postoperative Distress and Mothers’ and Fathers’ Touch Behaviors.” Journal of Pediatric Psychology, vol. 40, no. 10, 5 Aug. 2015, pp. 1115–1123., doi:10.1093/jpepsy/jsv069.