40

I'm a male teacher. I have a problem with two 10-year-old girls who sometimes insist on hugging me. I don't particularly enjoy hugs at the best of times and when the hug comes from a minor I really dislike it.

I have discussed my aversion to hugs with the teacher in charge of the music program. I asked her if I could ask the mother of the girls if it is possible for the hugs to stop.

The boss of the project then told me that I should under no circumstances talk about it with the mother. She said the girls probably come from a family where hugs are given freely and that they are simply too young to understand why it bothers me.

So I decided to leave the situation but the fact remains I'm a man teaching girls and with that comes certain realities. I also feel as part of any person's dignity is that he or she does not need to be touched in any way or by any person in any manner than he or she does not want.

The thing is I do actually like teaching these girls, they are for the most part well-mannered children. That is why I'm desperate for the hugs to stop as I do think it could jeopardize any feature teaching we may have.

Any advice would be appreciated.

  • It could help to know where you're from... – user7953 Feb 3 '17 at 13:01
  • 8
    I'm unsure if this is on-topic here but I wonder if it's leaning more towards the Workplace. You're question is definitely a good one in my opinion, just not sure it's in the right place and I may be completely off with my suggestion. – Bugs Feb 3 '17 at 13:05
  • 7
    @fkraiem I would be interesting to know where he is from, but I think his problem is fairly common in any country where a man is teaching girls or women. We often tend as a society to 'profile' all because a few have done the wrong thing. – WRX Feb 3 '17 at 16:58
  • 4
    10 years old is getting on in years for a child, so you could always try asking them, "Please don't hug me." – Dr. Spock Feb 5 '17 at 22:06
  • @Dr.Spock Yes, go with that. Or maybe deduct points for inappropriate social interaction, when the parents complain OP can then discuss situation freely. Not too sure why the project boss/manager told OP to not talk to parents under any circumstances. That seems just a bit strange to me. – NZKshatriya Feb 6 '17 at 9:48

10 Answers 10

37

I liked @Willow Rex's answer quite a bit, and I think it can solve your problem. However, there's another aspect to your question that I think can be addressed if you so desire. Since you already told the teacher in charge and she dismissed your concerns out of hand, then discuss it with the principal. If you get no results there (they really should take this seriously), I think you can speak with the students directly.

Your body belongs to you and no one should touch it without implicit or explicit consent.** If you're averse to hugs, be it for whatever reason, it's a violation of your physical and psychological boundaries when people hug you uninvited. Ten year old girls (unless they are special needs) should have no difficulty understanding this.

They were probably told that strangers should not touch them, and no one should touch them inappropriately, so they do understand something about the invasiveness of touching. It's time to expand their horizons (kindly and lovingly) about your discomfort with hugs. They should be aware that their intrusion into personal spaces don't always feel like gifts to the receiver.

The next time one of the girls hugs you, ask if you can speak with her alone for a minute (alone meaning in public but where no one else can hear your conversation.) Tell them that while you like them, really enjoy teaching them, and appreciate their affection, you don't feel that hugs are appropriate, and they make you uncomfortable. Again reiterate that you appreciate that they like you, and you like them as well, but a simple "thank you" will do if they want to express their appreciation for your attention and your teaching. They are becoming young adults now, and should respect other people's personal space. Finish by telling them you don't want to hurt their feelings, that you enjoy teaching them (and whatever else you can honestly say), but it's no hugs from now on.

They will probably feel embarassed or rebuffed, so pour on the smiles and kind words. Greet them with a smile whenever you see them or when they take leave your class. That should help.

Good luck.

**I love animals, especially dogs. When I see a dog I'd like to pet, I always ask the owner, "May I approach your dog?" Dogs have a personal space, and violating it might mean a nasty bite, or the dog might be a service dog, might be sick, or maybe the dog just doesn't like to be touched by strangers. While most owners say yes, you might be surprised by how many say no. If people should respect a dog's space, it should be obvious that they should respect a person's personal space even more.

  • 4
    I love this answer. My 4 an 6 year old girls learned "respect my body" from a very young age. And they love hugs and kisses, but consider as a 6" tall man what happens when a 4 year old follows up a hug with a kiss while I'm standing up. Very uncomfortable . So we had a "respect my body" conversation and everyone was happy. They learned that it applies not just to them, or just to kids, or just to girls, but to everyone. – corsiKa Feb 3 '17 at 19:01
  • 13
    I'd be wary of telling them this right after a hug. I think it is better at their age to tell them at some unrelated time and give them the opportunity to stop before it happens again. If they are caught of guard by you telling them this immediately after giving a hug, they will feel shame and possibly resentment for being shamed without an opportunity to avoid it. – Paul Feb 3 '17 at 19:01
  • 4
    Instead I would tell them in advance, that there are some people don't like hugs, so to make sure that they don't make anyone uncomfortable they should always ask before hugging anyone if they don't already know that person likes hugs. Follow up with telling them that you have a bubble and that don't like hugs from students. Let them know that it has nothing to do with the individual student, it's just that the hug itself makes you uncomfortable. – Paul Feb 3 '17 at 19:01
  • 3
    Then if they try to hug you some time in the future, you can remind them at that time. Tell them that you’re not angry, but that you do not like hugs, and will not be happy if they keep giving you them. They will remember that hugs make you uncomfortable, but they won’t be surprised and, although they will still be embarrassed, they won’t be wondering how serious of an offence they’ve committed against you and why you didn’t tell them earlier. – Paul Feb 3 '17 at 19:02
  • 8
    @Paulpro I think you could turn your three comments into an answer, but your point is interesting. To me, it makes sense that schools send home (every new year and with every new student) guidelines about conduct. I think that while I loved getting hugs, it really is not appropriate in most school/workplace/office/ situations. Men teachers are particularly scrutinised. Today, I'd insist on my principal's protection, especially if I were male. – WRX Feb 3 '17 at 19:22
13

Your body is yours. Unless you expressly consent to a hug on each and every occasion it's de jure harrassment. However, you've not given express consent each time, so what now? If you want a legal option, move your question to Workplace.SE or Law.SE. Since you asked on Parenting, I assume you want a softer response: guidance on changing the kids' behavior.

I'd suggest turning the tables. Become the offerer, rather than being the receiver. Before the children move to hug you, offer a high-five, handshake, fist bump, or any other action that you're comfortable with. The gesture needs to be something the kids will reasonably recognize as expressing appreciation or "a job well done".

This strategy puts you in charge of your body while validating the kids' feelings of gratitude. They might still go for a hug, in which case you can simply withdraw. They'll soon learn that the gesture you offered is the way to express their gratitude for your teaching.

  • 1
    I am a youth minister and deal with children on a regular basis. Hugs can be a difficult thing to deal with especially from the opposite gender. Always try to offer alternative gestures as mentioned in this answer but if you have to take a hug always get on their level and take it from the side. But most hugs can be prevented if you put your hands out for a handshake, high five, out some alternative first. Get your hands in front of the cold to stop the hug and change direction. Excellent question and this is the best answer in my opinion – amaster Feb 4 '17 at 23:04
  • Uhm, he could always just say no to the hug. Sure feelings will be hurt, but the students will learn about boundaries. I am getting tired of the whole "solve the problem in the most delicate manner possible" mentality. – NZKshatriya Feb 6 '17 at 9:53
11

I am a retired special ed teacher and hugs do seem to come with the job, don't they?! Not only can it be awkward due to the size of the child and where they might touch, but often times hugs came with a runny nose and left deposits.

So if you are a music teacher and the children are sharing instruments, you might talk about clean hands, sneezing and how colds and flu are passed between people, by touch, hugs, doorknobs and surfaces/instruments. Tell the entire class that from now on, "we are not going to shake hands or hug and we are going to wash our hands" before coming to class or if you have a sink, before they touch instruments. If this is implemented for the entire group, you need not address it with individuals. Remind everyone that colds and sore throats make singing difficult and wind instruments impossible.

This is a good idea in any classroom to help deter the passing around of all the germs that come to school.

If you are not a music teacher, I think you could still discuss colds and how they spread. You could even let kids make tissue box covers (We did thin papier maché) and decorate them. In our school, students provided their own tissues so we had a reason to send a note home telling parents what we were learning and could they please send tissues? This way parents heard about trying to prevent colds and flu and their children would not come home saying the teacher won't hug me.

In our school we had specific rules, and that helped. A classroom door was always open unless 5 or more students were in attendance. The door was never locked unless we were so directed by administration/lockdown. This was to help deter any misdirected accusations. Parents were allowed to walk into classrooms at any time. (We 'discouraged over-eager helicopter' parents by putting them to work with other students.)

ON EDIT: If you are teaching music to individuals, that's another problem. I understand that you might not be able to leave the door open (to help noise reduction) in a school setting. I'd still explain about colds and 'flu, but I also would be concerned. If you are actually concerned about being alone with students, I think it should be addressed at the admin level. In our school, our one piano room was also an observation room (spec ed meant that was helpful) so it served two purposes. A window would be a good idea for all male teachers. Yes, I know it is not fair, or right. But it is reality.

I hope this helps!

  • 14
    I'm not sure how I'd feel if a music teacher was dictating anti-social medical policies to my child; simply cover up his/her own personal preferences. – NPSF3000 Feb 3 '17 at 17:07
  • 2
    @NPSF3000 anti-social? How do you see this as anti-social? Serious question. – WRX Feb 3 '17 at 17:11
  • 21
    @WillowRex "we are not going to shake hands or hug". If I heard my child saying they didn't want a hug (or shake someones hands) because the Music teacher said it was icky (transfers germs)... I'd not be particularly impressed. More importantly my wife would definitely not be impressed and I'd have to deal with it. – NPSF3000 Feb 3 '17 at 17:15
  • 4
    @DoritoStyle which is why anongoodnurse's answer is better and more acceptable, imo. We need to tell the truth. It protects all of us far better than shading it. – WRX Feb 3 '17 at 18:17
  • 2
    @DoritoStyle "I completely see your concern, but hugging usually isn't a acceptable social behavior in most public contexts like an workplace" True, and this distinction is made in anongoodnurse's answer. This answer does not make that distinction which is the issue, and relies on 'medical' reasons from someone who had neither the expertise nor the authority to make the call. (Side note, my wife used to sing in barbershop and hugging + singing is very much a successful combination there). – NPSF3000 Feb 3 '17 at 18:32
10

I'd like to address this:

The boss of the project then told me that I should under no circumstances talk about it with the mother. She said the girls probably come from a family where hugs are given freely and that they are simply too young to understand why it bothers me.

I have a family where hugs are given freely; family friends and their children are included in this. My boys (5 and 7 y.o.) go to a school where hugging is common - between friends and even with their teachers.

However, in our family we teach our children that some people do not want hugs, do not want to be touched, and we have talked to our kids about not touching anyone else without their permission.

So in my mind the boss of the project is incorrect here: the parents of these children need to know what's going on and should be teaching their children what is appropriate touch and what is inappropriate. Ten years old is certainly old enough to have this discussion - they should have been having it several years ago.

And who knows... perhaps if you simply ask the children to stop hugging, that will be the end of it. Maybe they have had these discussions with their parents and simply didn't know that you didn't want to be hugged.

5

I agree that it's better with a 10-year-old to speak directly, and in advance. What about adding the word "yet" to soften any potential embarrassment for the child? Something like, "Actually, I haven't mentioned to you yet that I prefer a [fist-pump, handshake, wave, touchdown yay, etc.] over hugs." I also like stating things as my preference, rather than, "I don't like when you hug me." Someone may hear "YOU....yucky..." But it sounds like they enjoy their lessons with you, which is nice.

4

Why not replace it with a handshake?

Tell them that you like shaking their hand much more, and make it into a ritual when they arrive and leave. Be sure to time it before they usually start hugging.

  • 1
    This is by far the best answer, simple as it may be; it's the only one that doesn't needlessly cut down the child's affection. (And yes, cutting down the child's affection IS needless.) – Wildcard Feb 5 '17 at 9:25
4

Beware of cutting down the affection of youth.

Bart Doe's suggestion is simple and likely workable: transition them into shaking hands instead. You could also do high fives, or fist bumps.

I understand we live in a modern society paranoid about sexual predators and "inappropriate contact," but do not lose sight of the value of interpersonal affection. You can't really live life without affinity for others—or if you do, it will not much be worth living. Don't cut down the affinity of youth.


A true story I read long ago seems very relevant:

A retired art teacher was contacted by a woman, now grown, happily married, with kids, who had once been a student of his. She told him of the depressing youth she'd had, and of one day in Art class when he (against the "no contact" rules of the school) put a friendly hand on her shoulder while she was sitting there.

This grown woman told him that she had been planning to commit suicide that night (not just a whim, but had actually planned it out; stolen the pills, or the equivalent), and because of that simple moment of spontaneous expression of affection, she decided not to.


I understand your aversion is personal, rather than worry about accusations of inappropriateness. Still, try to handle it without cutting down the affinity and understanding of the students. This shouldn't be too hard, if you have that intention in mind.

This can be simple: "Hey, I like you too. Hey, can we do a handshake instead of a hug? I'd like that better." Then if they forget and go to hug you, you might say, "Hey, thanks—handshake, remember? Cool." And smile. And it will be fine.

2

redirection with positive reinforcement.

however, it depends on the student and circumstance.

you could always position yourself at the close of a conversation where a hug is to be expected.

or maybe that the student hold their position until you return to front of classroom.

the telling you not to discuss it with parent is just worried about how the parent will react. emotional responses in younger kids are acceptable but once over 3rd or 4th grade, it should be would made in the schools documented policy handbook.

1

I'm a retired English and special ed. teacher. I suggest directly teaching the entire class a unit (although I hate that term) about how they're nearly middle school age now, they're growing right up, and when you get to middle school you'll want to know how young ladies and gentlemen act so that nobody treats you like babies. Then sneak it in with other customs of comportment like not running or yelling inside, excusing yourself when you cough or sneeze, keeping your knees together when wearing a dress, remembering to be kind to others, and so on. Let them act out scenes, and play games with quiz cards. Good luck.

0

I think the important part is to remember that children of this age actions are not motivated by sex. If a grown woman would touch you like this you would seriously have to question her motives but primary school children simply dont think like this.

I have gotten burnt by this as well, hugs from children when it is not done to get a hold of you, it is not done to put you in any sort of compromised position, it is simply done out of some sort of affection born out of a childhood innocence.

You have to learn to let these things go.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.