I raise chickens on my ranch and after one hatch we had a little Rhode Island Red chick that just screamed and screamed and screamed. It wouldn’t stop it’s little peeping cries. After trying to discover if there was something wrong with it, I finally realized it was lonely and wanted a mommy who loved it. When it was held, it would quiet down and go to sleep. By putting a teddy bear in with it, I finally got it to calm down. Chicks aren’t the only ones who have this desperate need for love or what is called a psychological Stroke.
A Stroke is any response made to your presence or to your existence. Getting response is essential to one’s emotional well being. Children who are isolated from the response of others may die. Experiments with many mammals – rats, monkeys, pigs, goats, sheep, dogs – show that if the newborn receives no strokes, even though he is warm and has food, he will become very sick or die. At the very least, his developmental processes will be seriously effected. Human infants also died at a high rate in orphanages where they were kept clean and warm and well fed because there were not enough adults to give the infants adequate stimulation. This changed dramatically when orphans were placed in foster homes, even without especially loving foster parents because there were more strokes in foster homes than in orphanages.
Around 1930, the people who were interested in child placement discovered that children did better even in dirty, abusive foster homes than in clean, indifferent orphanages. What they discovered is that there is another aspect to raising children besides food, clothing and shelter, and that aspect is stroking, touching, response. A child needs to be stroked, patted, bounced up and down, talked to, in order for his brain and muscles to develop properly. As a baby, stroking is literally touching. Later on, just a wink will do, or a smile from mommy. When we get older and are capable of understanding symbolic behavior, a word, a letter, a gold star, a merit award are all strokes. “Hello” is a stroke. Someone saying my name out loud is a stroke. From a celebrity or a sweetheart, the same “hello” may be worth many strokes. Sometimes the recognition is a bawling out or a beating. Negative recognition is better than no recognition at all. A kick is a stroke, too, and since everyone is survival minded, a kick is much better than nothing at all. Children who are beaten survive; children who are ignored die. I am not suggesting that anyone should go around beating kids. I am saying that people need to know that stroking is essential, that all human beings, both children and grown-ups need to be touched. If they cannot get tender loving strokes, kicks will at least keep them alive.
Attention is not necessary for not just our mental well being, but also for our physical well being. We cannot physically survive without attention from another person. Now of course the best type of attention is positive love and affection, but understanding that attention is a physical survival need can help you understand much of your own and other’s behavior (like your toddler throwing a temper tantrum or a woman who won’t leave a domestic violence situation). The best way to solve problems caused by lack of attention is to find or give positive love and affection.