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Is it Okay for a Teacher to Hug a Student?

When I was a teacher, I was known for many things:  not allowing use of the word “hate,” wearing a lot of rings on my fingers, and hugging.  Whether I was teaching kindergarten, fourth, or fifth grades, I always hugged my students (if they wanted a hug).  I hugged them hello and goodbye, I hugged them on their birthdays, to celebrate an accomplishment, to offer comfort, and to calm and soothe.

Within the last few years, teachers have been in the news with increasing frequency for inappropriate, criminal behavior towards their students.  Teachers are now advised not to touch a student.  It is safer that way — no innocent gesture could be misinterpreted.  And I watched teachers tell students they couldn’t hug them. 

But, that wasn’t me.  Any child who wanted a hug, got one from me.  They also received high-fives, air kisses across the hallway, pinkie swears, a hand on their shoulder.   Not everyone agreed with my hands-on methods, but that’s who I am.  I was willing to risk any reprimand if it meant a child knew he or she was loved and cared for.

My son went to a fantastic preschool where he was one of twenty children, with three teachers.  They were firm believers in the power of hugs and kisses on the tops of heads.  Now my son is in kindergarten, where he is one of twenty-three students with one teacher, and a part-time teacher’s assistant.  His teacher does not hug.

One afternoon at dismissal, he asked me if his teacher would hug him good-bye.  We asked if Ryan could hug her, and she turned sideways and gave a half-hearted hug.  Later, Ryan questioned me about his teacher’s hug; “It wasn’t cozy,” he told me.  I told him that she was wearing her keys around her neck and probably didn’t want to bump him with them.

There’s no easy explanation regarding the lack of hugs my son is receiving this year.  Some believe that hugs have no place in a school setting; children are there to learn, not to be cuddled.

Personally, that’s where I would remind others that the key word here is “children.”  We are talking about children; children who need to feel safe and respected and cared for.  And, it has been my experience, that hugs accomplish all those things.  Meanwhile, I can’t force someone to become a “hugger;” all I can do is remind my son that his teacher is there to keep him and all his friends healthy and safe.  That every adult at his school has the number one job of keeping all the kids healthy and safe.

And my son knows that in our family, there will be no shortage of hugs and kisses.

This was a guest post by Wendy Kennar. Wendy is  the mother to a 5-year-old-son, a writer, and a public school teacher for twelve years.  She has had work published in the Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, L.A. Parent, GreenPrints, DivineCaroline.com, Familius.com, United Teacher, Beyond the Diaper Bag, and The Barefoot Review. She blogs at Wendy’s Weekly Words

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6 comments

  1. Terra Simpson 17 July, 2014 at 08:49 Reply

    I ran into my ex- group exercise teacher who is female and I’m female and she just threw both arms around me and called me dear as I was walking away. I’m not surprised that she did not rub my lower back.

  2. Erica 7 October, 2014 at 12:00 Reply

    I taught for the first time today, and one of the students, (first grade), was very sad. She came over and gave me a hug, so I hugged her back. If they want to fire me for that, then they can. I was debating the situation in my head, and you know what? Her comfort at that moment far outweighed anything else.

  3. Lyz 11 February, 2016 at 17:29 Reply

    I’m so happy I came across this article. I’m a paraprofessional in an elementary school and kids always hug me. One child in particular who lights up when she sees me. She hugs me and is overjoyed to report when she’s having a good day and seems to relax after I hug her when she’s sad about something. Recently I was told that I shouldn’t allow her to hug me because it was inappropriate. What’s so inappropriate? A hug to reassure a child when their down or celebrate their accomplishments? I haven’t been sent to the “Principal’s office” yet but if a child approaches and needs a hug, I’m not turning them away.

  4. Dana 13 February, 2016 at 00:26 Reply

    I also give hugs to those students who hug me first. But in my school it is unconventional. So I am getting a lot of unnecessary attention because of that. I believe that we are all humans. We don’t live just in a strict setting where we are to give only knowledge, we are also there to teach life and human relationships is part of life. We love and respect each other. Students love to be around me, they know they can trust me, they are more open, motivated, inspired. I see nothing wrong in having this human bond.

    On the other hand I understand that it is dangerous for kids, if it’s pedophiles who do that. I am not one of them. So must I act as a robot when a kids needs a hug? I think no. But there are still bad mouthing going on. I should not care, but it affects me a bit.

  5. Lydia 4 April, 2016 at 08:39 Reply

    I am so happy you wrote this. I teach fourth grade and my kids always want to hug me, be near me. They fight over sitting by my desk. My Principal, who obviously has no concept of what children need told me that I need to be less emotional and tell them I need personal space. She is a total bully. I did not give up hugging my kids nor will I.

  6. CLuke 15 March, 2018 at 17:17 Reply

    I think it is sad that we came to the point that even an innocent touch on a shoulder, a hug, or letting a child sit on your lap is tabboo. I work with children and one of the worst things I have to do is to deny children hugs. And say something like “we cant do hugs but we can do high fives.” It pains me to not hug them when they want one even when they out right ask for one.

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