There is nothing intrinsically wrong with a hug. As a matter of fact, it is usually a familiar and welcomed form of greeting or a warm show of affection, depending on the context. However, children have a difficult time gathering context in just about any situation - their trusting nature and penchant for literal interpretation put their parents into the difficult situation of having to teach boundaries and to teach the children the difference between the types of hugs they can give and to whom. It's so hard to take the kind actions of an innocent child and have to burst their bubble, so to speak, by telling them it's wrong sometimes. When is it wrong? When is it right? How can they learn to read other people, understand stranger danger, differentiate between friends and family and aquaintances?
Samantha's empathic nature has made her a natural born hugger. The affection she feels for all people betrays her innocence in the ways of the world. She is just 6 years old, after all. But it's been difficult for us, as her parents, to teach this valuable lesson of appropriateness. For a long time she would hug pretty much anyone we passed on the street, whether we stopped to talk to them or not. (Can we say awkward?) So many times we gently, carefully, explained that she can only hug Mommy, Daddy, Gramma, Grampa, Memom and Pops, and then only anyone else we said it was okay to hug. And while she'd nod in understanding, saying yes, she understood, that agreement lasted only until the next stranger walked by.
Sammi's school aide, Mrs. D., has been working with us to help curb Samantha's indiscriminate hugging. It's so hard, though, as everyone is always cooing over her at school, saying how cute she is, asking for hugs themselves as they know she will likely reciprocate. But Mrs. D. has been keeping the ever-watchful eye, stopping either Samantha or the other teachers and administrators before it happens, educating the others and determined to create an alternate solution. The fist-bump-fireworks-thingy (I have no idea what to call it) seems to work pretty well, and Sammi gets a giggle from it every time.
The fruit of all of our efforts became evident last weekend, as we stopped for the night in North Carolina on our way back from the beach in Georgia. Samantha, walking with the two of us through a mall department store, stopped where an old man was sitting on a chair talking to a store employee. She gave them her customarily cheery greeting, breaking the focused conversation they were having and bringing big smiles to their faces (seriously, this kid makes everyone smile!). She then put her hand out to the gentleman and said, "Shake hands?" And shake they did, with an exchange of "It's nice to meet you!"
Steve and I looked at each other, incredulous. How easy was that?? How impressed we were by her confidence, her composure, her restraint! And we praised her up and down for giving such a perfect greeting to strangers, for being such a big girl. And she grinned ear to ear, as pleased with herself as we were with her actions.
And it was not an isolated incident. She repeated the act several other times over the next 2 days, indicating a true breakthrough in her development and maturity.
But I still demand my hugs, thrilled that I'm on the top of the good-hugger's list. I wouldn't have it any other way.