Tools of the Trade: Physical Touch - Life.Church Leaders

Tools of the Trade: Physical Touch

Imagine you’re in a Konnect room, and your special LifeKid isn’t paying attention to the Konnect video. Instead, she’s rolling all over the floor, despite your pleas to stop, and she’s distracting other kids. So—what do you do?

I’ve been there! And I’ve got ideas to help you. And don’t worry—you don’t need a PhD in child behavior to implement my ideas. I’m actually a high school senior who also happens to have a sister with special needs. I’ve learned a lot from working with her. It’s helped me work at my church to help other kiddos with different needs to feel comfortable in the church environment. Don’t stress out. Take a deep breath, and get ready to sharpen one valuable tool in your Buddy toolbox: Physical Touch.

Often, physical touch is the most convenient method with the quickest results. Try to follow these basic rules.

  1. Move the child to a change of position. This might sound really simple, but it can work wonders. For the little girl described above, you could try to get her to stand behind the other kids. It’s possible that being on the ground may be bothering her. On the other hand, some kids become uncomfortable standing around all the commotion of the other kids during worship time. It can cause the child to vocalize their discomfort, or cause them to pace, wring their hands, try to escape the room, or other signs of distress. When you notice any of these signs, see if they’d lie on the floor—out of the way of the other kids who may be dancing—on their tummy, propping up their chin with their hands with you instead. Or, seat them along a wall. Sometimes this kind of physical touch from feeling more grounded is exactly what a child needs to feel secure.
  2. Get in the child’s line of vision first. Touching anyone from behind can scare them, so be especially careful with your special LifeKids. We may not always be aware of anxiety the child might have. It’s better to be safe and let them clearly see you before touching them. Then, it’s more likely the child will respond positively.
  3. Be careful how you touch. Some kids with sensory differences don’t like light touch, like a gentle stroke on the arm. They may prefer gentle, downward pressure on a shoulder, a big high five, or a bear hug. Try some downward pressure on their shoulders as you say, “You’re okay because I’m here to help you.” And ask the child if they’d like a hug before you offer one. Smile and speak encouraging words while you do, and it’ll be much easier to calm them down. “I know you can make the right choice. When you do, I’ve got a big high five waiting for you!”
    • Don’t be too rough or restraining if you’re using physical touch to redirect a child. We don’t want the child to feel enclosed. Being too controlling over the child could cause them to squirm or even scream in frustration. Always remember that your job is to guide the child toward the best decision, so when touching them you want to make them feel like they have a choice. Be firm, but in a way that gives them confidence in you, not afraid or angered at the sight of you.
  4. Give the child something to touch. In my family, we like to call these fidget toys. You might hear them called sensory toys or comfort items, too. They’re exactly what they sound like—they’re objects that you can hold that tend to relax you because you can just mess with them. There should be a “sensory toys” bin on your campus. Try keeping some of these toys in a bag with you to offer your special LifeKid if they seem like they need something they can touch to keep their hands busy and burn off some stress. For example, you could hand a child a ball or a doll that they can hold, two blocks that they can connect, or a soft brush to run on their skin. Really it can be anything, so feel free to get creative with whatever is around you.
  5. Be flexible. If nothing else seems to be working, you may need to pull the kid aside, possibly to the other end of the room. Sometimes all a kid needs is some breathing room. It’s totally fine to play with the child one-on-one while the other kids are listening to the message or doing other activities. Relax, and be willing to do whatever the kid needs to calm down.

Keep on the lookout for signs that the child needs some physical sensory input. You won’t be able to use the five tips above if you don’t realize the child is in need of them. Situations that call for physical touch in some form could look like a child rolling on the ground, hitting their head on the wall trying to let off steam, leaning on other children, or refusal to let go of a toy during Clean Up time.

Physical touch is a really helpful tool to have in your toolbox. Let it be one of the first things you try in difficult situations with your special LifeKids, but make sure to incorporate it throughout your time together either way. Giving hugs, high fives, and pats on the back show the child you love them. Of course, physical touch isn’t always going to work, so try it, then move on to your next tool if you have to. Pray for wisdom and creativity in whatever situation comes up, and never give up. You can do this!