Not too long ago, due to changing circumstances, my kids (then aged two and four) had to start a new school. They were extremely happy at the first playschool, but we needed a place that provided holiday care too. Did you realise that there are 12 weeks of school and public holidays in a year? That is almost a quarter of the year! Sometimes I stand amazed at how unaware we grew up about the challenges our parents had to face and overcome to get us to where we are today. Times were different then, and in my case, I know the support structures looked different too. There was a much higher sense of community and often relatives in the same town who could support each other. I remember at the age of 7 our house rule was to be back before dark. In today’s age, we tend to be too scared to leave our kids even with relatives nevermind a date night where the children sleepover.
Getting back to the story at hand- my kids had to start a new school. They were all excited about the new school with the bigger playground and more friends. On the first day, my daughter ran to her new teacher to give her a hug. The teacher was standing up straight- and my daughter looked like a chihuahua against her leg. The teacher kept her leg out straight (one before the other) and awkwardly put her hand, with a pen still in, it on my daughters back saying “Oh she is home already” and pulled her leg back. . . My 4-year-old daughter immediately sensed the lack of affection and perceived acceptance and what could have been a good start to the day immediately turned into a situation of distrust.
The next day my daughter insisted that she won’t hug the teacher, my heart cringed. Kids are not stupid.
I love to hug my kids, but I am also not a natural “hugging-kissing-cuddling" person. I spoke to the teacher and told her at the previous school the rule was to say hello and goodbye with a hug from the teacher, which is why my daughter hugged her. The teacher affirmed that it was the case at her previous school too- and again gave her the “leg hug”. Hmm...
Regular readers know me by now, so because I rate the value of hugs, especially in helping kids adapt to new situations like starting a new school, I decided to share some insights on this. Please share it with your friends and caregivers so they can make an informed decision when they decide to hug or not. And of course- remember to say goodbye and hello to your child with an affirming hug- here is why:
In our house we GIVE hugs, it is a gift and a blessing from the giver to the receiver
The mysteries and benefits of hugging:
You will probably remember all the benefits of babywearing from a few years back- when you had a newborn. The benefits of hugs are very similar and more practical for older toddlers and pre-schoolers. Again, you would not recommend strong perfumes for caregivers as this may make it a sensory overloading experience instead of a calming experience. So when we say “hugging”, it would refer to deep hugs (bear hugs), by a trusted person.
Hugging conveys emotions in a non-verbal way
As I mentioned above, my child immediately sensed more than what I can verbalise in the first few seconds she met her teacher. I can go on about what else happened at the school and how this behaviour was played out at home, but this is not the point of the article. Let's just say that my daughter's interpretation wasn’t wrong and that we have decided to take her out of there and found a place where she is happy and cherished.
Deep hugs can help in the treatment of stress and anxiety
Hugging can calm the senses and balance the neural system
Hugs can Strengthen the immune system
A study from Carnegie Mellon University showed that healthy adults who got hugs were less likely to come down with a cold. School bugs are real! Can you imagine having a sick child less often?
Hugs can convey a strong sense of love and support
If you drop off your toddler at a school, it is a big shift from mommy’s arms to being one of 10 or 20+ kids. I think it is important that they feel supported, hugging can help establish this sense of love and support.
It can help you to get through stressful situations
Like starting a new school, but also any other challenge you may face as an adult.
Hugging encourages patience
Infographic credit: Things to do with Kids family magazine, Winter 2017
As kids age, their sense of self and self-esteem may be more established and they can settle for less hugging. But as babies and youngsters, they can benefit immensely from this to build good self-esteem.
Bear hugs positively affect your hormones
Hugs releases dopamine – the feel-good hormone, it can decrease cortisol levels and increase oxytocin.
Hugging is a form of deep pressure and the benefits of deep pressure in treatment and rehabilitation has been used widely by occupational therapists. Read this study about how deep pressure can help children with autism.
Now even though we are not going to go around hugging everyone we see and there will be exceptions to the rule, I would like to think that the place I decided on, to take care of my pre-schoolers for 5 hours a day, is a safe place where I can trust the teacher/caregiver with a simple hello hug, grounding them for the day and goodbye hug affirming the relationship.
Let me know your thoughts below and… go grab a hug!