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Top : Parents Corner : Touch is Brain Fertilizer

Touch is Brain Fertilizer

~ Dr. Tian Dayton

So key is family to survival that divine design has rewarded close connection and made separation hurt. Not accidentally, the opiates that are our biological reward system and are turned on by touch and connection, not only produce feelings of joy and pleasure but literally act as fertilizer for brain and body growth of all kinds.We are built for connection and connection allows us to grow strong, intelligent and resilient.

The “opiates of attachment“ or “brain fertilizers” that are turned on by the kind of touching and closeness between the mother and child actually strengthen connections between neurons in the brain that literally make our children more intelligent, fit and eventually more successful adults. Without these molecules coursing through us, the brain cannot connect up properly. This is why nature rewards mother/child intimacy so strongly by making it a pleasurable experience, because without it, our children can’t survive and thrive. God has designed mothers and children to interact in ways that stimulate sound neurological growth which translates into emotional growth or a well regulated limbic system. The limbic system the intricate brain/body web that actually “sets the mind’s emotional tone, filters external events through internal states (creates emotional coloring), tags events as internally important, stores highly charged emotional memories, modulates motivation, controls appetite and sleep cycles, promotes bonding and directly processes the sense of smell and modulates libido,” Amen 1998). Each tiny interaction we have with our children actually lays down wiring that sooths and strengthens our child’s limbic system. We teach our children how to regulate their own moods by being calm and regulated ourselves. Our calm actually becomes theirs neurologically, it hard wires itself into their bodies. No longer nature versus nurture, nature and nurture work together seamlessly to build the person we are constantly in the process of becoming. Nature and nurture combine exquisitely in God’s plan to allow mothers to give children what they need to grow and flourish. As mothers we seep into our children’s emotional pores showing them what the world is all about, what comfort feels like. From this they come to understand how to reassure themselves and others.

In The Chemistry of Contentment Dr. Barry Brazelden reflects that “there is a singularly comforting body chemistry to being hugged by a parent who loves you. If a mother monkey scoops a baby close against her chest, heart rates drop, when scientists measure stress hormones, they can chart them dropping away. An identical reaction can be seen in human children. A child tucked against his mother’s shoulder seems lulled into that easy chemistry of contentment.” One of the scientists who has done the first and best work on the chemistry of touch is Saul Schanberg of the Department of Pharmacology at Duke University. Schanberg suggested that our intense response to touch is a primitive survival mechanism. "Because mammals depend on maternal care for survival in their early weeks or months," says Schanberg, "the pro- longed absence of a mother’s touch triggers a slowing of the infant’s metabolism." That allows the infant to survive a longer separation from the mother. Once she returns, her touch reverses the process. Premature babies, who are stroked for fifteen minutes, three times a day, grow 50 percent faster than standard, isolated preemies. The baby who huddles into his crib, or the little monkey who curls up at the edge of her cage, appears hopeless. But we should be aware that some of this huddling is actually conservation. As they hunker down, the babies are waiting for their mothers to come home and for everything to be all right”.

All of this helps us to understand how touch is good for our health, our immune systems, our sleep, our anxiety levels, and our lives. The close and bonded relationship between mother and child is the best investment that we can make in our child’s present and in their futures. The research on touch shows us how intelligently we are designed to nourish our children through each and every tender interaction throughout our day. Not surprisingly, Emily Werner a researcher who conducted the longest study on resilience when she examined the life histories of children who have succeeded despite many challenges, consistently found that these children have had at least one stable, supportive relationship with an adult early in life.

Christ calls on us to demonstrate. As mothers we are doing God’s work in the world by demonstrating our love to our children through action. Children take in information through all of their senses. It is our sensorial, alive and corporal presence that communicates our love to our children. They need to feel our arms around them, hear the sound of our voices soothing them and sense our presence next to them. Children who are raised in the presence of this kind of demonstrated love wear it on their faces and carry it in their hearts. They become stronger and more capable of focusing, attending and regulating their own emotional and biological systems. They become more whole and capable of meeting the day to day challenges and demands of their growing lives. And they learn to trust love and accept God’s place for them on earth through the place that their mothers and parents hold safe and warm for them in their home.

Tian Dayton PhD has a doctorate in clinical psychology a masters in educational psychology and is a certified Montessori teacher.She is a frequent guest expert on TV and radio and is the author of fifteen books the most recent being Modern Mothering: Teaching Your Kids to Say What They Feel and Feel What They Say. For more information log onto

Submitted on : 7-Dec-2005

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:5-6

Top : Parents Corner : Touch is Brain Fertilizer

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