We like to give hugs in our family. One of our little kids’ favorite things is making a “Sandwich Hug” with Mom and Dad. We wrap our arms around each other with a child suspended snugly between us. They love it!
I didn’t anticipate needing to teach some of my children that hugs are good and shouldn’t hurt. Kalkidan didn’t learn how to give or receive love and affection when she was little. When she came home to our family, most of her hugs were tight squeezes that hurt and generally left the recipient squirming to be released.
When we initiated hugs and picked her up to hold her, she would draw her knees up to create distance between us. Affection frightened her and she needed to control the interaction. Kalkidan had no idea that it was a sweet exchange of love because she didn’t trust adults, including us.
Her younger siblings used to shy away when they saw Kalkidan coming. When she would reach out to hug one of them, most often they would pull back or try to get away before she could grab them.
We practiced giving hugs and showed her what a nice hug should feel like. We reminded her, “Hugs don’t hurt. Be gentle.” We played silly games, hugging brothers and sisters, hugging mom and dad.
It’s important to note that hugs should never be required of children, especially children who have been hurt or traumatized. With some children, we need to ask, “May I give you a hug?” and respect their answer. But if it’s a matter of not knowing how to give a hug, practice can go a long way.
In time, Kalkidan learned how to give love and affection in a sweet and healthy way. Best of all, her brothers and sisters began to hug her back, and she even learned to love a sandwich hug.