Physical Touch in a Virtual World

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School Before the Virtual World

Imagine school before a virtual world.  You are a busy 3rd grader in the pre-pandemic era. You jump out of bed ready for a great day of school. When you head out of the door to catch your bus, you are greeted by your neighborhood friends. You high-five each other just as the bus pulls onto your street. Your crew hurries onto the bus happily pushing and horseplaying. You squeeze through the narrow aisle of the bus and find your usual seat, right next to your 1-3 closest friends. 

Remembering the Student School Day Before Virtual

At school you make your way through the crowded hallway, weaving through clusters of chatting classmates. Finally, you reach your locker and quickly grab your books while pressed shoulder to shoulder with the student beside you. The bell rings as you scoot through the maze of desks in your classroom toward your seat to start your day. You “high five” your teacher upon getting a great grade on a class assignment, and hug a friend who’s having a bad day.  

Virtual Life for Students

Now imagine it’s November 2020. You are waking up and getting ready to give it your all in a virtual school setting, more than likely in your own home. Your parents have prepared a warm breakfast and ensure you have everything you need to be successful in your online classes. You head to your desk and actively engage in the work of the day, largely alone.  You likely won’t see any other people outside of your family that day.  What has changed?

In short, everything.

The Importance of Physical Touch in the Virtual World

Children who attend school in virtual settings are getting considerably less physical touch than they normally would in a typical school day.  Why is this important? 

Research showsFrom the time we are in the womb through our elderly years, touch plays a primary role in our development and physical and mental well-being. New studies on touch continue to show the importance of physical contact in early development, communication, personal relationships, and fighting disease.”

Physical touch is essential to overall health and well-being. It has long been linked to positive moods, feelings of security, increased thought and problem-solving abilities, decreased anxiety, and even increased immune system capacity. Though it is impossible to replace the many “touchpoints” of an in-person school environment, there are many things parents can do to help supplement this most essential basic need. Check out these easy ways to provide more physical touch at home: 

Providing More Opportunities for Touch During Virtual Times


  • Add physical touch to daily routines

    • Brush or comb your child’s hair
    • Sit close to your child while working independently
    • Snuggle up while reading books or watching movies
    • Rub your child’s back at bedtime
    • Allow your child to sleep proximate to siblings or parents
    • Hold hands at meals to say a prayer or just have a moment of silence
  • Intentionally schedule in “touchpoints” throughout the day

    • Play, wrestle, or arm wrestle
    • Push your child on a swing
    • Take walks and hold hands
    • Play hand-clapping games
    • Hug and high five to show support or appreciation
    • Potentially eat more meals together than usual
  • Help Your Child or Student Support Themselves

    • Encourage your child or students to give themselves a pat on the back or a hug 🙂
    • Consider a pet. Being able to give touch and get touch – even from a pet, can help.
    • Get your child or students outside. Even if they can’t have physically touch, they can touch the natural world by laying on grass, letting the sun touch their skin, climbing a tree.  In fact, a study showed that just exposure to sunlight can give children benefits.


Incorporating meaningful physical touch helps children and adults alike. The key to receiving the many benefits of healthy physical touch may very well be right in the palm of your hands. 


Kimberly Robinson is a Possip team member and a thought leader in schools and families.