Hugs are not always straight from the heart. This World Hug Day, ensure your child knows what kind of touch has the power to heal. For, in some situations, hugs can do more harm than good.
By Jasmine Kaur
A hug at the right time from the right person can make us feel so good! Just think back to a time when you were feeling low and a loved one wrapped you up in warmth and comfort, with that kind of close body contact. However, not all kinds of hugs are the same. Forced ones (versus those that are mutually beneficial and heartfelt!) can actually do more harm than good. This World Hug Day, make sure your child knows all about the power of this kind of contact and when it can heal.
Children have as much right to their body as adults do. Therefore, they have the right to say 'No' to certain behaviours that involve their body and make them uncomfortable. A prime example of this is displaying affection through hugs and kisses. Moreover, forcing children to display affection defeats the purpose of showing affection. Wouldn’t it be better to give your child time to get used to the adults around her, so that she can show affection out of her own choice?
Moreover, affection has to come from within, so your friends and relatives would be better off trying to build a connection with your child before she is ready to hug them. Connections usually start off with small steps, like sharing a conversation or a smile, which a child would be more comfortable with. After she is familiar with them, she might even want to hug them because he wants to.
So, your child needs to know that she has the right to her body. You can support her by listening to her requests and not forcing her to hug people if she doesn’t want to do so. This will teach her that she has control in deciding who gets to touch her and who doesn’t.
In our culture, we often treat people in authority as people to be obeyed no matter what. For your child, an adult almost always has authority over him. Forcing your child to hug an adult would reinforce this. And it will give him the false impression that adults have the right to his body. This impression can be harmful, as some adults have the potential to hurt him. Moreover, when he grows up, he may find it hard to say 'No' to other people in authority, like his teachers or his bosses, which can sometimes not have good results.
Instead, if you allow your child to decide when and whom to hug, you can show him that adults, even relatives or parents, are not entitled to his body however they please, even if it’s ‘just a hug’.
While your friends and relatives are not strangers to you, they are a lot like strangers to your child. So, it’s good that your child takes time to warm up to them. After all you wouldn’t want your child to trust strangers too quickly, would you?
If your child is continuously pushed to hug and kiss other people, she might start to think that it’s only possible to physically display affection. But there are non-physical ways to show love or liking. For example, children can create a card, sing a song, do something helpful for that person and other unique ways. These are little actions that matter. Teach your child to explore these non-physical ways of showing affection, so that she can bond with others in her own way.
Boundaries are not easy to create and maintain, especially when they might hurt people’s sentiments. This is true when it comes to hugging — some people may feel hurt especially if your child says he doesn't want to hug them. This could force him to hug them, out of guilt. However, it’s important for him to know that, even though his boundaries may be somewhat hurtful to others, he is completely valid in maintaining them. This is important and can help him develop his own sense of self-worth.
When it comes to body contact in the form of hugs, the important thing is to say 'No' to others, in the right manner. Tell your child that he doesn’t have to directly say 'No'. He can simply not move towards the hug and shake his head. If he is still compelled, he can say ‘No, thank you’. You can support him by telling him that it’s okay to say 'No'.
Some adults may even try to persuade him for a hug by saying that he will get some kind of a reward or prize (chocolates or candies) if he hugs them. Explain to him that no one has the right to compel him in this manner. And that it is good to say 'No' especially when the other person offers treats in return.
Hugging is not a bad thing! In fact, it can feel pretty good when all parties are comfortable with it. This is in part due to our brain releasing endorphins that make us feel better. So, when your child is ready and comfortable, she is welcome to hug people!
Knowing these things about the power of touch can help your child not only better navigating hugs and other forms of affection, but also become emotionally well-adjusted. Moreover, your child will grow up knowing how to maintain boundaries and saying 'No', which is a very important skill in life.
Written with expert inputs from Dr Meghna Singhal, who is a clinical psychologist, psychotherapist and a parenting consultant at ParentCircle.
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