The power of hugging your children

The power of hugging your children

Crèche Life

If your child wants a hug, hug him or her and – this is key – for as long as they want

If your child wants a hug, hug him or her and – this is key – for as long as they want

If your child asks for a hug, always give one to show you are reliable and open to the child's needs
If your child asks for a hug, always give one to show you are reliable and open to the child’s needs

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Let’s be honest with each other: sometimes children can be exceedingly frustrating to deal with. Usually, their behaviour becomes more difficult when we, as adults, are not feeling our best ourselves, and we end up in a downward spiral of grumpiness and anger.

I have figured out a simple solution to end this cycle before it begins: I offer a child who’s displaying what we in the business call “unwanted behaviour” a hug. It can take a bit of time to get used to for both the adult and child, but I have yet to meet a child who doesn’t eventually realise how much nicer it is to get some positive attention instead of spiralling into anger and frustration.

Of course, a bit of frustration is good for development, but here I am talking about the kind of anger and frustration that comes from feeling and being misunderstood, and in a lot of cases, the inability to understand oneself.

For example, an adult asks a child to put on his shoes and jacket to go outside. You know the child can do this on his own without much help, but he keeps asking for help and pretending he cannot do it, perhaps even making himself cry to convince you of the seriousness of the situation. You remember the child had a rough night and may be genuinely tired and frustrated, and is actually using this moment to show you that – probably without even realising it.  

What I do in this case is go up to the child and say “I can see you’re struggling. Is it because you’re tired?” I then offer the child a hug. If he or she says no, I reassure the child, saying “I’m here if you do need a hug later, just ask me”.

Nine times out of 10, they will take me up on this. If they do want a hug, you hug them and – this is key – for as long as they want. At my nursery, we never end a hug before a child does – yes, this sometimes means sitting for 20 minutes while your colleagues take over the more practical tasks, but it shows children that you really are available for them when they need it most. 

In most cases, there is a deeper problem or feeling they are dealing with, which means they may need a hug that seems disproportionate to the situation.

The beauty of working in this way is that not only do you stop a cycle of mutual frustration and anger before it starts, but you are consciously working on your relationship from a place of love. And please don’t think I only hug children when they are struggling. I often ask children who are near me and look like they need it if they would like a hug, and respect the answer they give me. If they are on board, we hug and feel happy together. If not, I let them know I am always available if they do need one.

One more important point for this strategy to work: if your child asks for a hug, always give one. This way, the child knows you are reliable and open to their needs. Be open and available to these wonderful little moments that make both of you feel better and your relationship healthier.

Merel Miedema is an early childhood educator in Amsterdam, where she works at one of the city’s oldest independent and green crèches.  

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