You Should Teach How to Hug

Sometimes there's just too much of a good thing.

Maybe you're squatting on the balls of your feet near the playground. Your two-year-old has just performed an amazing (in his mind) trick. Now he is barreling at your smiling face for a big open-armed hug. Crash. Newton's laws of physics. And now you're toppling backwards onto the ground.

You laugh, a bit embarrassed, as the other parents watch you right yourself and try to remain smiling at your little charging bull. You can't help but murmur, "That was a bit too much of a hug for me."

Or maybe you're at home hosting a play date, and your three-year-old, who has played so sweetly all afternoon, is saying goodbye to visitors. The children are poised eagerly for a hug. 

You oooh and awww as the three year olds put their arms around each other. Then the moment takes a turn for the worse, and your smiles turn upside down. Your child appears to be squeezing your friend's child like a lemon! Your friend's child looks terror stricken.

"That's enough hugging now!" you say quickly, a bit panicked, as you pull your child's arms away.

Your friend puts on a small, fake smile. Her child hides behind her. It's an embarrassing moment, and you cover it with a big wave. "See you soon!"

teaching Grace and Courtesy

Hugging seems so natural that we tend to expect our children to just know how to do it appropriately. It's why the thought of teaching someone how to hug may seem odd. The truth, however, is that while physical contact may be a very human trait, there are subtle rules governing how to act on that need. Children must be taught what is acceptable in order to know what to do. 

Here are four tips to help you teach a child how to give just the right kind of hug. 

1. Model the types of hugs you want to see

If you are ending every single one of your hugs with a big tickle and chase around the house, your child is likely to do the same to others. Make sure that when you hug your child, you resist the urge to capture her for longer than she desires.

Hugs are a two-way street... even for parents and children! Whenever there is an opportunity for you to hug another child or another adult while your child is in the room, just know that your child is probably secretly observing you. Make sure you are hugging the way you want your child to hug others.

2. Give a lesson

A bit of information about how hugs work might just do the trick. Take a few minutes with your child to talk about how to give a hug. Do not do this during or just after an embarrassing hugging moment. Wait until later on in the day, or even on another day altogether.

Depending on the child, you can either use words or just actions. If you do use words, keep it simple but talk about what you are doing and thinking. Don't forget to ask for consent. A healthy respect for personal space is learned in childhood.

For example: 

"I would like to give Daddy a hug. Daddy? May I give you a hug? He said yes! I'm going to gently put my arms around him just like this. I'm patting his back. Not too tight, just right. Gentle. And now I look in his eyes and see if he is happy. Does he like the hug? He does! The hug is over and I'm stepping back."  

A real-live person is best, but if one is not available for the lesson, it's perfectly okay to use a stuffed animal or even the family dog, if he's willing! 

3. Prepare and support

If your child is a habitual over-hugger, it might help to give some support just before and also during the hug.

For example:

"We are about to say goodbye. Does Aiden want a hug? Ask him. Ok, it looks like he does. Gentle touch. Look at his face. Is he happy?"

4. Practice

Children will not absorb the teaching moment without a bit of repetitive practice. Take turns role-playing the hugger and the huggee! Books about good hugging can also help with practice time. Check out some suggestions here.