Tuesday 21 August 2012

To Hug or Not to Hug

I remember reading an article years ago about how you shouldn’t force your kids to hug people since it teaches them that other people can touch them when they don’t want it.  Not a consistent message with teaching them to respect other people’s boundaries and telling them that people don’t have the right to touch them without permission.

Now, I think it’s possible to overthink this too much.  Hugs are a social lubricant and have their place.  And I don’t believe in teaching children to be afraid of people.  However, I think there is a valid point which centers around one word: force.  Children shouldn’t be forced to hug or shake hands.  They can be gently encouraged but if they are persistent in not wanting to, that should be the end of the story.

I encourage my boys to hug and I’ll admit there’s a calculating motive as well as a more emotional one.  Autism makes children and adults socially awkward.  A hug can counteract some of the awkwardness, a kind of mute apology and act of endearment all in one.  By making them comfortable with hugging and by making hugging an acceptable part of our social dynamic, I hope they’ll be comfortable with it in the future.  I don’t want them to speak the language of affection with a foreign accent.

Emotionally, I’m a hugger and I couldn’t imagine not being able to hug my boys.  Alex still tends to be mostly a drive-by hugger.  A quick squeeze and he’s back to doing other things.  But he’ll ask for hugs sometimes, which always makes me feel great.  But I don’t force hugs if they tell me no.

I know there are parents whose autistic children are so touch sensitive that the lightest touch feels like a slap.  Their children scream as if they’re being tortured when their parents try to hug them.  It breaks my heart to imagine it.  It’s so natural to hold your children when they’re frightened and upset and to be denied that must be difficult.

It makes me feel very grateful as I hold my children tight.

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