All It Takes is a Hug

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She looked up at me, tear-soaked eyes and all, and said “hug?” In that moment I realized that sometimes all it takes is a hug. 

In the past three years as a developmental teacher at Greenwood, I have had to handle my share of behaviors, both disability-related and not. It’s hard to put yourself in their shoes and imagine what’s going through the mind of a child. It might be something that happened before school, during breakfast or lunch or even something I did unknowingly to cause such anger or frustration in the classroom. In the moment, you can try and think back to that training you had, that article you read, or a suggestion someone made, but in reality, it doesn’t happen that way. You have to think and act quickly to assess the situation, de-escalate and move on. 

All children are unique, and so all approaches should be unique. Some children need a few minutes to cool down, and they are good to go. Some might need support, calming voices and strategies to be able to de-escalate in a timely manner. Some might need to talk about it while some might not want to talk at all. Some are non-verbal and don’t have the ability to talk. Some might take several hours to de-escalate, and you feel like nothing is working. Every situation is going to result in a different approach, but I have found that when nothing else is working…resort to the basics.

“Do you need a hug?” is the question I ask when we are both tired and frustrated and just don’t know how to move on. Believe it or not, it works almost every time! A lot of students are dealing with something in the back of their minds that cannot be solved with a conversation, strategies, or discipline. They come from all different backgrounds and home environments, and more often than not, they might be missing something critical if they are acting out at school. Love. 

During my first year of teaching, I had a student who needed to be re-directed multiple times every few minutes. After trying every tactic in every book I could think of, I was feeling very defeated. I came to school already feeling defeated every morning knowing I would have to spend hours redirecting and struggling with this student about basic tasks like lining up for lunch or specials. One day, I had reminded the student she was working for iPad time and then asked her to do something, and she chose not to do it, so I told her “Oops, then no iPad.” Crying and screaming “no” ensued immediately, and she went and sat at her desk and cried. The rest of the class walked out to recess, and she was very upset. I just stood near her waiting for her to line up like I asked, and she looked up at me, tear-soaked eyes and said, “hug?” In that moment I realized that sometimes all it takes is a hug. We hugged, I wiped her eyes, and then after we talked about listening to teachers, she lined up and finally did what I asked. 

I have used this strategy wisely over the years, and it has proven effective with a range of students from kindergartners with down syndrome, first graders with emotional disturbance, fifth graders with cerebral palsy and intellectual disabilities, and so many more. I have had people come up to and tell me a story about their incident with a student, and when nothing was working, they remembered my method and asked, “Do you need a hug?” and it was a complete 180-degree switch from throwing things to almost complete tranquility, and the student melted under the loving, warm hug. 

So, I challenge you to try this method when nothing else is working, when both you and the student are so frustrated and ready to be done with whatever is happening. The simple question and basic necessity of a warm hug might just be the secret weapon you needed to reach that child. 




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