Have you heard of the concept of skinship before?
I first heard this term when I was living in South Korea. A friend of mine was saying how the parents at her school were so happy to see that she had such a great skinship with her students. This puzzled me until she explained.
Skinship, according to that situation, was the ability to have a physical connection with a child. Not in a “call the police, start getting some therapy” type of way, but in the “Melissa is feeling really sad today and feels comfortable asking for a hug” type of way.
It’s like kinship, but with physical contact. I would play with the students at my school, give them high-fives, hugs, let them hide behind me if they were playing tag in halls. They would sit on my lap, or stand beside me and kind of lay on my shoulder to look at the computer screen at my desk. They would hold my hand or play with my hair (two of them found out it was a wig and they were fascinated with it from that point on).
When I was teaching in schools here in Ontario, I saw a lack of skinship. Teachers here are scared to have that connection with their students. In some schools, even forbidden to have it.
Now, as a nanny, I see how important that contact is with a child. How sometimes, all a child needs is to have the comfort of an adult give them a hug. As a nanny, it has been sometimes easy, and sometimes really hard, to build up that skinship with my kids.
1st, I don’t have it at all. But she’s 13 now, and too cool for a nanny. 1st doesn’t want hugs or contact at all. And I respect that. She’s started asking my help with this one game on her new iPod, and she asks me to take her to the bookstore. That’s her level of skinship. She did let me hold one of her rats…I squealed and squirmed the whole time being like “this is ok…this is ok…” out loud..while also freaking out..again, out loud.
2nd was a little bit more hesitant. Our first hug was because her mom was busy and I was like “Ya know, I give pretty good hugs. It’s cos I’m all squishy.” She accepted and agreed – I am squishy. Now she doesn’t really ask for them. I just give them. It took a while but now we are comfortable enough that she gets then when she needs them. She even gets forehead kisses, and she’s started using my lap as a pillow while we watch tv. She will even stand on the stairs above me, having a conversation, just playing with my hair.
3rd I would say was the hardest. The girls are more comfortable with the contact, but he’s 10 now but this whole year has been very much “don’t touch me!” You know when you are walking and you want to guide someone so you just put your hand on their back to steer them around walking into a pole or falling down a flight of stairs? I couldn’t even do that. But this last month something has changed. He will get all excited about something and will grab my shoulders and shake them to tell me about it – I’ve even started doing it back (gently don’t worry!). The other day I needed him to do homework so I took his shoulders to turn him around (almost stopped because I remembered he hates that) when he just falls…on purpose…down to the ground in slow motion, making me have to catch him. Then I was even allowed to spin him around on the floor by his foot (he was playing with the dogs). It only took a year but we’re getting there.
4th was the easiest. She has always been very open to skinship. She holds my hand, she lays on my lap, I give her piggyback rides, and carry her upstairs to bed when she’s half asleep. She will just walk up to me and wrap herself in a hug. She gets upset whenever someone mentions I’ve lost weight because she wants me to stay squishy since I’m her pillow. Lately, she’s started tracing my face with her hands – first my nose, just tracing the outline of it. Last week she was drawing little circles on my cheeks. I play with her hair, or boop her nose, or whatever.
I can see the importance of skinship with these kids. How our connection grows as they feel comfortable to ask for hugs or to just play. It’s a really great thing to see and experience.