How you can help single parents understand why their kids are touch-deprived


PleaseHoldMeOne of the most precious scenes to witness on a Sunday morning is a new mom cuddling and holding her tiny, little infant. The love between the mom and her newborn baby radiates on her face. For some moms, it is almost painful to hand their newborn babies over to church nursery workers. The attachment between moms and newborn babies is already strong.

We are all pretty good at holding and hugging little ones. It feels good to the child and to the adult. Research shows that if a baby is not touched, held, and cuddled, it deeply affects the baby’s attachment to the primary caregiver. God created us for touch.

As parents divorce and get wrapped up in the divorcing process, forming new living arrangements, and adjusting to a new normal, many times they forget the needs of their children. The parents forget their children’s need for something as simple as a hug. Children need appropriate touches.

For some single parents, it is a self-protective wall they have thrown up. They are afraid that if someone hugs them, they will fall apart. They fear they will let their guard down and completely lose it in front of others. These parents just don’t realize their children need physical attention. They don’t know that appropriate touches are therapeutic to a hurting child.

How you can help single parents

  • You can tell single parents to hug their children and hug them often.
  • Encourage them to hold their children’s hands during the church service.
  • Encourage single parents to put an arm around their children as they sing together when standing for praise and worship.
  • Teach single parents how important touch is to children.
  • Encourage parents to get on their knees at home with their child for prayer time, and hold the child’s hand or put their arm around the child’s shoulder.
  • Hold hands during mealtime prayers.
  • Rub the child’s feet at night during bedtime. (I realize this is a strange one, but it was very important to my daughter—so important that when she was in labor, she wanted her mom to rub her feet. Of course, I did, and it was a precious time for both of us.)
  • Rub their children’s back every so often.
  • Warn single parents that if their tweens or teens don’t get appropriate touches at home, they will seek out physical attention from the opposite sex. (This is especially true for girls in relation to their dads. Girls will seek male attention wherever they can get it.)

These kids come to church with an empty bucket regarding appropriate physical attention.

What you can offer at church

  • Handshakes
  • Fist bump
  • High fives
  • A warm hand on the shoulder
  • An arm around the child’s shoulder
  • For men to little girls, a side hug
  • For women to boys, a side hug
  • A hand on the child’s elbow
  • Holding the child’s hand as you walk across the room

Note: Your church may have specific guidelines on developmentally appropriate levels of touch when ministering to children. Please be aware of them. The suggestions I’ve offered must be overlaid with wisdom and age-appropriateness and put in the appropriate ministry context. Use the comment section below to share any guidelines your church has developed.

When a child has been abused

When children have been physically or sexually abused, most of the time they will shrink back from physical touch. Always take your cues from the children, and if they pull away, never force a hug or a touch. Some younger children will try to experiment with inappropriate touching if they have been sexually molested. They might try to hug inappropriately, kiss someone, or replicate something that happened to them. In these situations, consult with the parent to see if the child is in therapy. If possible, ask to speak to the counselor or therapist as to how to handle situations at church.

Sensory integration

Some children with sensory integration or sensory processing do not want to be touched. Again, do not force a hug or any kind of touch.

Jesus touched the children

“And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.” Mark 10:16 (NIV, emphasis added)


This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on June 12, 2014.

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