"Hugs can do great amounts of good — especially for children."
-Princess Diana, Princess of Wales
I know it's the unwritten--shoot, probably written sometimes--rule that you should never touch a child. We had some "what if..." situations during my training in the fall, one of which included hugging/touching children. The blanket agreement was that the easiest thing is to just not touch students in any way. Clearly things can be misconstrued, and you don't want to put your job in danger.
But let's be realistic for a second: In an elementary school, it is impossible not to end up touching a kid. Kids are incredible touchy to begin with--I was so surprised when at the end of my first day a 3rd grader gave me a hug. Umm, I barely know your name, and can't have possibly been any help on anything given that it was my FIRST DAY. I don't think I did anything to deserve it. (I still get hugs now that I'm not sure I deserve--or are from surprising kids who seem to either not care I exist or hate my guts). I get so so so many hugs at school, almost 100% initiated by students. Also in my first week a kindergardener asked to sit on my lap. I said no, and wasn't going to let anyone sit in my lap until I saw other teachers and staff allow it, so I felt comfortable giving in to the kids. It would be cruel not to allow them that gesture. Especially given that I don't know what their home life is, and if I can show them love that they aren't getting at home, then hopefully that can make a difference.
Students constantly grab my hand, hug me, and sometimes I can't keep their hands off of me. This past week some kindergardeners kept wanting to play with my hair. Kids will just reach for my wrist to see my silly band, or grab my necklace or earrings for a closer look. And you know what, I'm going to let them, because it is so clear that that is what they need. Hugs are important for building relationships with young children. It's helpful to comfort them if they are crying, it makes them feel special if they're sitting in my lap, it gives them attention--and for some kids, they fly under the radar because other naughty kids take up a lot of the classroom teachers' attentions.
On the flip side, touch is important for the safety of children. If a kid won't respond or listen to direction and are physically hurting another student, there's really no other way to stop them. I've had to pull kindergardeners off of each other, watched a fight get broken up yesterday, and have had to restrain kids from making poor choices.
When it comes down to it, children respond to touch. Obviously the no touching rule is there for a reason--to keep child abuse on the part of teachers from being called into question, but schools would be complete disasters without touch--both for the safety and for the well-being of students.
And if a student wants a hug, I won't deny them. Not to mention I love hugs! And it seems like research (and Princess Di) would agree that hugs are important--and can improve your mood. Here's a not so scientific article.
I also pat kids on the head all the time. Once time, a third grader turns to me and says "why are you petting me?" And you know what, I wasn't really thinking about it, I just was. And the other night I was watching TV with friends and a friend curls up on the couch beside me and sets her head on my shoulder. I immediately reach up and pat her on the head. Which then I realize is a little odd when she's 22 and not 5. Oh well.