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Communicating about the issues around hugging children

  • 1.  Communicating about the issues around hugging children

    Posted 07-07-2017 04:54 PM
    The foster grandmother one of our classrooms is very affectionate and she often hugs the children when they arrive in the morning and before they leave in the afternoon. I've been reading more and more about bodily autonomy and consent, and how important it is to teach young children that they don't have to hug anyone unless they want to. I want to share what I am learning with our foster grandmother, but I know she means well and I don't want to offend her or make her feel bad. Do you have any ideas for what I could do or say?

    Alissa Mwenelupembe
    St. Vincent Center for Children and Families
    Evansville IN

  • 2.  RE: Communicating about the issues around hugging children

    Posted 07-08-2017 08:00 AM
    Maybe, in front of her, you could discuss with the children that they should understand they don't have to be hugged if they don't want it and coach them how to politely decline.

    Robin Howell
    Edinboro PA

  • 3.  RE: Communicating about the issues around hugging children

    Posted 07-08-2017 09:35 AM
    Robin, I like your reply except that I would discuss the issue with the grandmother first.

    Jack Wright
    Success With Children
    St. Ignatius MT

  • 4.  RE: Communicating about the issues around hugging children

    Posted 07-08-2017 11:12 AM
    I agree that it best to talk to the foster grandmother first to explain how you like to handle physical affection in the classroom and your reasons for this. I think it is good to begin to help young children and us as adult to respect each other's body, physical space and wants. As adults we can encourage and model words to ask for physical affection ("Can I have a hug?" , "Can I give you a hug?'). Children can also be taught to decline politely any requested physical displays of affection ("No thank you", "Not now."). Either those wanting or refusing physical hugs, can also ask for or offer a less physical alternative such as a high five or  a hand shake. This may be a good alternative for children with sensory issues. There are other children though who crave physical touch for emotional connection and/or sensory issues, so I certainly don't want to discourage children from spontaneously seeking affection by modeling using words, nor would I want to make prohibitions about adults reciprocating with warmth. Touch is such an important way to convey connection and caring.

    Barbara Wolf
    Philadelphia PA

  • 5.  RE: Communicating about the issues around hugging children

    Posted 07-08-2017 12:18 PM
    My 2 cents:
    1) Having the teacher speak reflectively in the moment with the child would make an effective strategy for the aide to observe. Seeing facial expressions, body language and gestures will reveal the child's point of view. "It looks like right now you don't feel like hugging, aren't ready to, don't want to, etc..." Everyone can relax and back off, if no contact is made. Permission has not been granted for obligatory affection.

    2) Questions that are closed-ended (Do you want a hug, may I hug you, etc.) are too confronting and can cause uncomfortable inauthentic reactivity on the part of the child. Open-ended statements have possibilities for responsiveness with the right use of will of the child.

    Elizabeth Memel, M.A.
    RIE® Associate
    Resources for Infant Educarers®
    Los Angeles and Ojai, CA

  • 6.  RE: Communicating about the issues around hugging children

    Posted 07-08-2017 01:56 PM
    This can be a very "touchy" subject.  I am a huggy person and have been disillusioned that due to certain situations in the world we are encouraged to limit some often needed physical contact for children.  Some programs have become very sterile over the years. But I agree with many of the responses.  We need to educate the adults so there is understanding, and also to protect ourselves from any misunderstandings. And we need to educate our children, or let them educate us, as to what their needs and comfort levels are for physical contact.  Our family learned that very quickly about 14 years ago.  My niece let us know that hugs were out of bounds. She helped us learn that a kiss on the head was all she needed. Reading body language can tell us so much.

    Patty Graff
    PSU / BKC Westmoreland Co
    Greensburg PA

  • 7.  RE: Communicating about the issues around hugging children

    Posted 07-08-2017 08:55 PM
    Hi Alissa,  You want to take care of everyone's feelings - good for you!  What if you have a private conversation with the grandma, validating her care for the children and the need that we all have for some fairly large number of hugs a day.  Then you could add, as appropriate for your program, the information that children should be asked if they would like a hug so they will learn to think and have autonomy over who, how and when they are hugged.  If they say no, that is respected.  If they do want a hug there might be the game of "what kind of a hug would you like today?" (then people make up funny ones or funny names for hugs, for example, a koala bear hug, a grizzly bear hug, a pinkie hug, an elbow hug, a telegraph hug if anyone knows what a telegraph is...?  But you get the idea.  Silliness leads to laughing which releases endorphins!  It's a good thing.

    Gay Macdonald
    Los Angeles CA

  • 8.  RE: Communicating about the issues around hugging children

    Posted 07-09-2017 08:44 AM
    This is important and Difficult.  It is hard to give specifics without knowing the "grandmother", but it sounds like there needs to be a conversation.  If you talk regularly about classroom issues perhaps this can just be one more topic you are learning about and want to share.  Make it less about her in particular.  Hugs should always be initiated by the child so at this point as she greats them (many will probably just give her a hug) any child who hesitates she can give a way out like a high five as she says good morning.  I'm sure she wants what is best for the children too:)

    Pamela Evans
    Chancellor St. Preschool Cooperative
    Charlottesville VA

  • 9.  RE: Communicating about the issues around hugging children

    Posted 07-09-2017 12:46 PM

    Is this grandmother hugging all the children in the classroom? Or just her foster grandchildren? I can't tell from the question and I think it makes a huge difference in how a classroom teacher would react to the behavior.



    Mary Field
    San Antonio TX

  • 10.  RE: Communicating about the issues around hugging children

    Posted 07-10-2017 12:39 PM
    Creating an environment where adults can discuss relevant, important child care practice is the foundation of a safe, caring and rewarding environment for children. I applaud you for recognizing the mother's behavior, which is the first step in becoming a supportive caregiver.

    Tell the parent straight out what you are practicing with regard to consent and self-care. It is important that we all put the needs of the child ahead of our own, which includes practicing those seemingly difficult conversations with adults. If children listen to us correct them when they don't "give each other space", then they are victims (yes, victims) of the same behavior from adults, the learning is lost and trust cannot be found.

    The Silver Rule, "Do unto others as THEY would have you do unto THEM", needs to be practiced by all of us, rather than the Golden Rule. This I learned in a Love & Logic class!

    Mary Russell
    Journeys Out Yonder
    Boulder CO

  • 11.  RE: Communicating about the issues around hugging children

    Posted 07-10-2017 01:46 PM
    Alissa, thank you so much for sparking this important conversation!  I know the New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute is offering some great PD on the topic.  The next session on Bodies, Curiosity, and Touching is Saturday, July 22nd!  There are 8 spots left if anyone wants to join me :)

    I'll try to follow up on this thread with what I learned.  Warmly,


    Megan Pamela Ruth Madison, M.S.Ed
    Student Board Member | NAEYC

  • 12.  RE: Communicating about the issues around hugging children

    Posted 07-26-2017 11:08 AM
    Hi all,

    Here is one of my favorite things I learned about during the workshop!  I think this video really models what conversation with young children about consent can look and sound like.

    Living Room Protest III- No means NO!
    YouTube remove preview
    Living Room Protest III- No means NO!
    Bodies. Atonomy. Permission. Children. No Means No
    View this on YouTube >


    Megan Pamela Ruth Madison, M.S.Ed
    Student Board Member | NAEYC

  • 13.  RE: Communicating about the issues around hugging children

    Posted 07-11-2017 09:57 AM
    This conversation has come up at a couple schools where I have worked. While the Foster Grandmother is just trying to "Grandmother" the children in a way that she would her own grandchildren (presumably), our job as educators of young children is to keep them safe and teach them life skills of all sorts, including boundaries and appropriate physical touch with non-family members. As we teach them their bodies are their own and they have the right to say how they are touched, we need to model appropriate forms of affection and affirmation. Really young children often have no other experience of affection beyond their immediate family and you'll often see them throw themselves at non-related adults because they are happy and excited and sharing affection in the way that is most familiar in a family setting. We expand their "vocabulary" of affectionate behavior just as we expand their spoken vocabulary. We use new "terms" and explain them if the children don't understand the meaning. If you explain to the Foster Grandmother that she is part of a life skill lesson, and request her assistance, she will most likely be happy to help keep "her grandchildren" safe by modeling appropriate ways to show affection. Brainstorm with her and come up with sweet and fun ways she can "teach" the children more options for giving and receiving love! She can "teach" too!

    Elizabeth Ryan
    St. Paul''s Day School
    Delray Beach FL

  • 14.  RE: Communicating about the issues around hugging children

    Posted 07-11-2017 10:05 AM
    What a vitally important subject, and I'm so glad you're considering it!  There are actually several great children's books out there that deal with this topic.  Two, in particular, are by Jayneen Sanders (No Means No! and My Body: What I Say Goes).  No Means No addresses the physical affection bit (you can see a review of it on YouTube here: No Means No! by Jayneen Sanders). In addition to providing a starting point for having these discussions with the children, it could also be a great way to broach the topic with the grandmother (Hey, maybe even ask her to read the book to the children?). That way, it could be addressed as something the classroom community is learning and practicing together, which would indeed be the case!

    YouTube remove preview
    No Means No! by Jayneen Sanders
    NO MEANS NO! by Jayneen Sanders This book teaches children about personal boundaries, respect and consent. This book is ideal for children between the ages of 3 - 7. You can find more sex ed books over at:
    View this on YouTube >
    No Means No! by Jayneen Sanders)

    Lydia M. Bowers
    Sexual Health Educator
    NAEYC Affiliate Advisory Council
    Cincinnati, Ohio

  • 15.  RE: Communicating about the issues around hugging children

    Posted 07-11-2017 08:52 PM
    I think that would be okay to talk with grand parent. If just let her know each child is unique,even when we hug we ask their permission. Some children don't like hugging. On the other hand if children are encouraged to use their words, they may say "Thank you. I don't like hugging". Grandma will understand and she may not do it again if children don't want hugs. That is my normal way. I always ask children to say how they feel.

    Kusuma Udagedera
    Silver Spring MD

  • 16.  RE: Communicating about the issues around hugging children

    Posted 07-12-2017 11:57 AM
    It is good that we are constantly learning to become better educators for our intelligent and independent little ones.  I have a question in regards to the original post.

    I agree to the comments that have been supported so far but the question I am wondering is based on observation in the classroom.  Has the foster grandmother forced a child to hug before they leave or has a child voiced that they do not want to be hugged or have you noticed children's body language to suggest that they do not want to be hugged?  These are very important questions.  I don't want to assume that the foster grandparent is forcing every child to hug even after the child has expressed (in any way) that they do not want to be touched.

    My students hug me and i hug them back in my classroom but if they show any sign that they don't want to be touched I respect their space.

    I do agree though that discussing bodily autonomy and consent with the grandparent and students is definitely important.  So kids and adults are aware of their rights to in regards to their body.  Not only for school but outside the school grounds.

    Timi Fagbohun
    Prek 3 Educator
    Hyattsville MD

  • 17.  RE: Communicating about the issues around hugging children

    Posted 07-13-2017 03:35 PM
    Three thoughts:

    1.  Perhaps the foster grandma has been told by the agency that funds the foster grandma program that her job is to hug the kids.  It might be worth checking with them before talking with her.

    2.  One 1st grade teacher I know used to ask the kids, "Do you want a hug or a handshake?" at the end of the day.  Or maybe it was as they entered the room at the beginning of the day.

    3.  It is always good to help children learn about body contacts and good touch/bad touch, but also essential to talk with parents/family before introducing this conversation.

    Patty Meritt
    Fairbanks AK

  • 18.  RE: Communicating about the issues around hugging children

    Posted 07-14-2017 12:40 PM
    Interesting this topic comes up...

    When I go around to my classrooms, many children want to hug me. My mother is a hugger, so I grew up getting more hugs than I probably wanted :) but I'm used to them, they don't bother me. Though it's tough when 10 toddlers bumrush you all at once! My prekinder teacher however, is teaching her children to ask first, before they bombard me. So they are learning that the 'polite' thing to do is to say "Ms. Monée, can I have a hug?" - and only when the answer is yes, may they give Ms. Monée a hug. For a 4-5 year old, I think that's a good lesson.

    The same can be suggested to the foster grandmother (I love this idea! Wish we had a few!) Gently suggest, or model for her, that she ask each child every day even the ones she's hugged Monday though Thursday - Friday just might be the day a child up on the wrong side of the bed, and doesn't want to be touched. At whatever age, it's good for children to know that their body is theirs and that they have some control over what happens.

    Monée Kidd
    Kidd''s Preschool Enrichment Center
    Cleveland OH