To hug or not to hug? In the classroom, it can be a tricky question. Some schools outright prohibit this level of physical contact between teachers and students, while others encourage teachers to give comfort when needed. This topic recently came up on our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE, with educators on each side of the debate. Here’s how other teachers answer the question, “Can I hug my students?”
YES, you can hug your students. Here’s why:
1. Your hug might be the only one a child receives all day.
“Sometimes we are all they have. I rarely initiate, but will never refuse a hug,” says Donna L.
“I teach kindergarten, and those babies are always wanting hugs,” adds Lauren A. “For some of them, I’m pretty sure it’s the most attention they will get all day.”
“The day I can’t hug a student is the day I retire,” agrees Debbie C. “Some kids need to feel worthy of hugs because they don’t receive them at home.”
2. Hugging makes schools a more nurturing place.
“Research has shown that people who hug are happier and are better students than those who don’t,” says Harmony M. “I tell my students that if they ever want a hug, they can come to me at any time. They have to initiate it though.”
“School can be such a brutal, segregated place,” agrees Jennifer C. “I think more hugs would help with the bullying, violence, and drug problems we see in high schools.”
3. Some kids just need a hug.
“I have students that will come and say, ‘Mrs. B., I need a hug.’ We hug and then they are off, they just needed to know that someone cares. There is a strange science behind it,” says Missie B.
4. Hugs bring comfort when the worst happens.
“I never used to give hugs,” says Tina O. “Then I lost three students in a car accident. I hug now. The caveat? I never initiate. I let them choose when to hug.”
NO, you can’t hug your students. At least not always. Here’s why:
1. There are better and more appropriate ways to show students affection.
“I love hugs. I do side hugs so that it’s appropriate,” says Jessica E., with many other teachers agreeing that side hugs are the way to go.
Some other alternatives to hugs mentioned by our teacher community:
- Fist bumps
- High fives
2. Hugs are only appropriate in certain situations.
“It depends on the age, the locality, and the needs of your students,” says Jo B. “We can all use a hug now and then, but be careful.”
“It depends on school policy and the age of the children,” adds Carol H. “I am a hugger, but I always wait for the child to initiate,” which is a piece of advice many of our commenters echoed.
Many teachers pointed out that hugs should always be in view of other people, with some teachers even commenting that they always try to hug in front of a security camera.
Finally, Matt S. pointed out that there can be a gender imbalance when it comes to hugging. “I am a male high school teacher, I think it would be taboo, so I definitely don’t,” he says.
3. The safest route is to avoid hugs altogether.
“Parents are always after teachers,” says Karen C. “Don’t touch them.”
And on the extreme end: “We had to sign a paper after training that said we wouldn’t touch a child in any way, shape, or form,” says Ingrid S. “If we do, we have to file a report immediately and obtain witness statements.”
Checking your school policy should be your first priority, without question. But how do you answer the question, “Can I hug my students?” Come and share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.
Plus, 10 things about childhood trauma every teacher should know.