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Thursday, October 28, 2010

She Is A Hugger

Kayla likes to give hugs. She gives hugs to anyone and everyone; including strangers. She does not do this to 100% of the people we pass, she does not even do this every single time we go out, but she does hug. Sometimes her hugs are so enthusiastic - like she hasn't seen someone in years when she doesn't know them at all.

Of course adults are fine with it and say 'oh she's ok!' and give her a pat and/or hug back. She'll hug kids sometimes too and some of them look at her sideways and keep their arms straight down at their sides.

I want to tell the adults that no it's actually not ok for her to be hugging strangers. Will they think it's ok and cute when she's 13? Will she still be doing that at 13 or will she grow out of it? Maybe I can teach her to just offer a handshake instead.

Several weeks ago we were leaving Cold Stone and Kayla was in one of her hugging moods. There were a couple kids playing outside, a few adults nearby at one table, and a group of teens at another table. Kayla made the rounds. And when I say she made the rounds, I mean she hugged every.single.person. at both of those tables.

Everyone accommodated her and they were all smiles as she went around each table. Even the male teens couldn't help be smitten by her outward display of affection and hugs freely given.

And what was I doing? Standing off to the side with a slight smile on my face but cringing inside. I cringe when she does this. Why? Because I feel like she's perpetuating the stereotype that people with Down syndrome are such happy, loving people.

I know people mean well when they say that, but sometimes it sounds like a consolation prize. "Oh you have a child with Down syndrome? Poor you. But hey! They are such happy, loving people!"

Watching her that day also made me cringe because it brought back this memory of an incident during story time - when Kayla was 2.5 yrs old. The librarian said, "this world has enough smart people in it and what we need are more people like that (meaning Kayla/Ds) people who are good huggers." That comment rubbed me the wrong way then, and it still rubs me the wrong way today.

I don't want the world to look at my child and think that's all she is - a good hugger. I want them to know there is so much more to her personality and who she is as a human being. I want her to be her own individual, unique person - not lumped together with a group of people because they share an extra chromosome and become just this stereotype.

Driving home that day from Cold Stone I did some thinking. Besides the 'stranger danger' concept that she needs to learn, is it really such a bad thing to like to give out hugs? Aren't there worse things she could be doing? Isn't giving a hug something positive? Don't people usually walk away smiling after Kayla hugs them? Why do I have to have such a hang up about her hugging people?

Even though I don't like how the librarian said it, maybe there is some truth to what she was saying after all. Maybe the world really could use more hugs. Maybe we're all in such a rush to get here or there or let this or that bother us; maybe we're not taking the time to see what's around us, or who is around us. We stay inside our own comfort zone and don't acknowledge those we pass by on the street. Maybe the world would be a better place if we were more friendly, affectionate, and offered up a hug or two now or then.

So yes, it might contribute to that stereotype, but my daughter is a hugger. I think it's time I get over myself about that and embrace it.

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Bailey's Leaf said...

I think that it is a grand thing that Kayla is a hugger. My daughter is generally a hugger, too. I think that maybe more what the librarian was going for is that so many kids are taught that people are bad or that they need to not show people how they feel, their parents will be embarrassed . . . and at least there are little children out there who pass all that by and truly give hugs to be a sparkle in someone's day.

We visit the senior high rise up the street. Grandma and Aunt Donna live there and K- will sometimes make the hugging rounds. She makes their day. Perhaps she was their only hug that day. Maybe they haven't seen their grandchild in a while. Maybe they just needed some lovin'.

Kids will hug for a long time. They will give a squeeze. There isn't that awkward "how hard do I hug, where do I hug, what parts do I avoid, do I hug . . . " They just reach out to any ole part that they can reach and give it a squeeze.

I think that it is safe to say that your Kayla and my K- may just be sunshine for folks. And yes, that we need a lot more of.

AngelaLexi79 said...

Well so you know it isn't just DS kids that hug...my 4 year old hugs so much at pre-k that her teacher said that was about the only negative thing about her. She hugs when people don't want to hug. And yes she hugs EVERY SINGLE person when she leaves pre-k every day even though i have tried to tell her to only hug when people try to hug her. Doesn't work so you know what? I gave up, maybe when she is older I will explain about germs or something haha....Kayla is just fine...and If I lived closer, we could put her and Kate hugging all day and they would have a blast!

Becca said...

Omg, I'm so conflicted about this, too. Sammi's also a hugger. I encourage it sometimes, like when we were in the assisted living place where my grandmother lives and I told her to go hug all the sweet old folks who looked like they could really use it. So, how does she learn to draw the line, then?

Anonymous said...

I have a daughter with DS and her name is Kaela (pronounced Kayla). She's not so much of a hugger though. In fact,she's pretty leary of people. Not scared but not trusting. She's only 5. She will watch a person for a long time, trying to decide whether or not its okay - even if I tell her go give so and so a hug. Not happening! So I wish you and I had a balance of some sort. But once the person is in Kaela's "circle of trust", she lays on the hugs and kisses.

Michelle said...

Yep - Matthew too. And you know - it really does usually make people happy, so that's good.
His latest thing is to introduce himself to whomever is standing there (Hi! I'm Matthew!), shake their hand, learn their name and then introduce them to the rest of his family. Annoying? Yes. Fun? Yes. Time consuming? Yes. Makes someone new smile? Yes. Safe? Probally not completely.
He made a fast friend that way last night at our block party. I think the other little boy needed it last night too and it was really cute to see how they hit it off.
I need to blog about this - LOL! :)
Great post, Michelle!

Molly said...

That's always how I judge a behavior. "will it be acceptable when he/she is a teenager"

That said, so many of my campers are huggers. In fact, I went to coach my SN soccer team and one of my campers spotted me and we RAN towards each other and hugged. haha. It was like in the movies.

Kathleen@so much to say, so little time said...

Julianna is just beginning to show signs of that. Up until now she has NOT been a touchy-feely kind of girl, and it has been one of my greatest sources of grief. I tend to say that Julianna is half girly-girl, half wildebeest. :) But lately she's started hugging me at odd times, warming my heart. But she also goes tearing off across the parking lot at school pickup and hugs the legs of complete strangers. (She's 3 1/2). I've worried @ the same thing: it won't be so cute when she's 13. But I kind of figure I'm going to take it one day at a time, b/c darn it, it IS cute now!

Sunny said...

I know exactly what you mean about standing by with a little smile on your face, but inside cringing. Antalya loves to give hugs too. I battled it for awhile and was too the point where I found myself telling her on several occasions, "we don't give hugs." But then I stopped and realized what I was saying - I didn't really want her to think that giving hugs was wrong, so now we just work on "being soft" and "ok, that's enough" when the hug has been on the long end, and if it's a stranger, I'm usually able to catch her before she goes in for the hug and tell her to say hello and wave - and the smiles and waves she gets in return are enough for her to forgo the hug.

Anonymous said...

Well, in school Kayli has been taught a "hands to self" policy and asking before hugging since many kids do not want to be hugged(mauled sometimes) by anyone, not just Kayli. We have taught her how to shake hands and she does pretty well now, mostly at 11. But I am secretly appreciative of her hugs and huggability despite the stigma that you are dead on about! Since I am not a particularly huggy person and has always been jealous of those who are!

Sunnie said...

She is who she is.....embrace it...she's beautiful!!
Sunnie in NC

Pam said...

My son is 14 and this has been something we have worked on for a long time. I do not believe it is okay to give hugs to strangers. Yes it brings joy to older people, but so would a very nice handshake. I do not allow my 11 year old daughter to walk up to strange men and hug them, why would I allow my son. BOUNDARIES. It is a lot of work, but our children can learn them with constant reinforcement. What is cute at 3 or 4 or 5 is not cute at 13. I have received more than my share of calls from school where my son has put his hands on another student and it was unwelcome. We have a very strict no hands policy at school. Everyone deserves the right to say when they want to be touched.

Anonymous said...

You never know what's going on with people you don't know.
I have severe arthritis & it would actually hurt me if a child touched a sore place on my hands, arms, etc.
I could see the parent getting mad at me, she/he's just trying to hug you, and then I become the jerk.
That's just my feelings on it.
Erika P.

jane said...

I just wanted to mention about the huggee perspective too. I have a physical disability that affects my balance- if I were hugged unexpectedly I may lose my balance and fall over- hurting both hugger and huggee- I just thought it might be something to think about

Chris said...

I read this quote in a magazine, it went something like "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone." I find that sometimes being the mom of child with Ds takes you to the end of your comfort zone--you mentioned your cringing :) And when you are out of your comfort zone, you do tend to look at life a bit differently. It isn't always easy, but it definitely a growing process. As far as the hugging, I do think that boundaries are important, but I do think that people in general could be more open with their emotions. We could use some more huggers.

Christina said...

Some people are just like that. We are not huggers but I have several friends who are. Sometimes you just need a good hug!