• Michelle Bickhaus

The Power of Touch


I often refer to some of my classroom behavior management tactics as magical. I say this because I’m always amazed at the powerful results I see from quick and simple activities. If you’re like me, you feel as though you have to work arduously to prepare something in order for it to be good. But isn’t it true that the most beautiful and effective plans are the simplest to prepare and employ?

Sometimes when I attempt a new “trick”, a.k.a. intervention, I’m floored by the efficacy of the enterprise. I’ll stand there and watch as it’s almost like waving a magic wand or twinkling my nose back and forth like Samantha Stephens did on “Bewitched”. I almost always want to jump up and down and yell, “It worked! It worked! I can’t believe it but it worked!” I refrain from such behavior, of course…most of the time.

Here’s a little classroom management ploy that will blow your mind: touch. No kidding.

I have to tell you that even typing the word, “touch” makes me a little uncomfortable. In this day and age there’s so much talk about “good touch, bad touch” and/or “inappropriate touch” that we can’t even say the word without a hair or two bristling. But camp here with me and let’s try to change this pejorative connotation of the word.

Touch is important the overall well-being of individuals and contributes to the health of relationship and community. What’s so useful about this in the classroom is that so often students who dysregulated and, perhaps, are escalating toward loss of rationale, aren’t able to listen to words. If a student is triggered and his or her body is reacting to the memory of abuse or other trauma, our words lose potency at this point, no matter how carefully chosen or on point those words are. We just can’t rationalize with a student who is losing their ability to reason.

A reassuring pat on the shoulder or a minute spent massaging an essential oil into his or her neck could prevent the progression of this dysregulation. A squeeze of the hand can help the child to modulate and begin to recognize that he or she is safe and cared for.

The best way to practice this is to use it proactively. I give my students hugs when they come into my classroom and try to do the same when they exit. I walk around and offer essential oil on the neck while they are journaling. I sit next to the kid who always shouts out and I massage his hand. I rub the shoulders of a particularly keyed-up student while I’m talking to the class.

These are natural kinds of behaviors that I, as a mother, think nothing of. But some of my students have never experienced nurture. They feel a little uncomfortable at first, however, when they realize that other kids are enjoying it and there’s nothing weird about it they begin asking, “Hey, Ms. Bickhaus. Can I have some of that?” “Of course you may,” is my reply.

While students recognize that touch makes them feel better they don’t know about all of the science behind it. There are studies that reveal all of the good it does for the body. There are stories, as well, of children who weren’t held and their growth was stunted. The absence of touch can lead to a host of maladies. Isn’t it remarkable that the simple act of cradling a baby can aid proper development? I’d wager that it’s good for the adults doing the cradling, too.

A few caveats: First, some students might be triggered by touch. If that’s the case, apologize and give them space. They’ll ask for that hug or for some essential oil if they decide they want to try some nurturing touch from you in the future. Second, it’s just one strategy in an extensive range of interventions - if this is successful, don’t throw out the other good stuff. Finally, if the student has escalated to complete loss of rationale and is punching walls, don’t go for the hug; give the kid space and observe carefully to determine when and if you need to step in with your organization’s approved protocol.

Maybe you’re already a hearty hugger in your classroom. Maybe you instinctively reach out and wrap those kids in your love and they know they are safe in your presence. If side hugs, shoulder pats, hand squeezes, etc., aren’t your thing, I hope you’ll widen your scope of interventions and give it a try. While it might feel uncomfortable at first, you’ll soon witness the benefits of nurturing touch with your own eyes.

There’s a familiar phrase that says, “Love conquers all.” I believe love does conquer all but only if we demonstrate love in the many ways the world grants us the opportunities to do so. If you’re a teacher, the world is giving you about 36 hours a week to nurture those who need it most. Do not fail to see the need and the power you have to upgrade a kid’s beleaguered present and give her a future.


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