“Imagine having a child that refuses to hug you or even look you in the eyes”
Imagine being shamed, as a child, for not showing affection in a way that is unnatural or even painful for you. Imagine being forced, as a child, to show affection in a way that is unnatural or even painful for you. Imagine being told, as a child, that your ways of expressing affection weren’t good enough. Imagine being taught, as a child, to associate physical affection with pain and coercion.
As a preschool special ed para, this is very important to me. All my kids have their own ways of showing affection that are just as meaningful to them as a hug or eye contact is to you or me.
One gently squeezes my hand between both of his palms as he says “squish.” I reciprocate. When he looks like he’s feeling sad or lost, I ask if I can squish him, and he will show me where I can squish him. Sometimes it’s almost like a hug, but most of the time, it’s just a hand or an arm I press between my palms. Then he squishes my hand in return, says “squish,” and moves on. He will come ask for squishes now, when he recognizes that he needs them.
Another boy smiles and sticks his chin out at me, and if he’s really excited, he’ll lean his whole body toward me. The first time he finally won a game at circle time, he got so excited he even ran over and bumped chins with me. He now does it when he sees me outside of school too. I stick out my chin to acknowledge him, and he grins and runs over and I lean down for a chin bump.
Yet another child swings my hand really fast. At a time when another child would be seeking a hug, she stands beside me and holds my hand, and swings it back and forth, with a smile if I’m lucky. The look on her face when I initiate the hand swinging is priceless.
Another one bumps his hip against mine when he walks by in the hallway or on the playground, or when he gets up after I’m done working with him. No eye contact, no words, but he goes out of his way to “crash” into me, and I tell him that it’s good to see him. He now loves to crash into me when I’m least expecting it. He doesn’t want anything, really. Just a bump to say “Hi, I appreciate you’re here.” And when he’s upset and we have to take a break, I’ll bump him, ask if he needs to take a walk, and we just go wander for a bit and discuss whatever’s wrong, and he’s practically glued to my side. Then one more bump before we go back into the room to face the problem.
Moral of the story is, alternative affection is just as valid and vitally important as traditional affection. Reciprocating alternative affection is just as valid and vitally important as returning a hug. That is how you build connections with these children.
This is so goddamn important.
I verbally express affection. A LOT.
My husband… doesn’t. I don’t know why. For the longest time part of me wondered if it meant he loved me less.
At some point I told him about a thing I had done as a kid. Holding hands, three squeezes means ‘I Love You’.
Suddenly he’s telling me I Love You all the time.
Holding my hand, obviously, but also randomly.
on my hand, my shoulder, my butt, my knee, whatever body part is closest to him, with whatever part of him is closest to me
All the time.
More often than I ever verbally said it.
It’s an ingrained signal now, I can tap three times on whatever part of him, and get three taps back in his sleep. Apparently I do the same.
It’s made a huge difference for us.
People say things differently.
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