How do you teach a kid with attachment issues about appropriate touching with strangers/ aquaintances? Part of the problem is he gets positive reinforcement from strangers because the say he's so sweet and nice when he hugs them. Charmer hugs his teacher about 50 times a day, hugs the school librarian, hugs the PE teachers, etc. So, do I tell the school he's not allowed to hug people? He comes to me for hugs constantly, but I often tell him it's not an apropriate time( like when I'm removing dinner from the oven or helping another kids with homework). I do cuddle him regularly.
Recently he made a new friend in the neighborhood. After playing with the kid ( who is 8), he did one of those long, hard full body hugs to say good- bye. The kid obviously didn't expect it or know what to do. He had his arms at his sides and looked confused. I told Charmer, "ok, stop hugging, not everyone likes hugs. You're supposed to ask before touching people's bodies" which I tell him all the time. He typically just yells " HUG!" and then grabs the person. He also leans up against people or strokes their arms and shoulders. Charmer has no understanding of body language.
I'm also frustrated with case aides, school officials, etc who don't stop him from constantly touching everyone. They all say " Oh he's so sweet!" Uh, no, he has no boundaries. Thats not cute and sweet.
The school needs to understand what you are saying or you need to move his school. At our local schools teachers do the side hug, push away. They don't encourage hugging. It's not that they are mean, it's just not appropriate.
We started talking to the girls about stranger danger and showed them a video. We then worked on explaining that you hug your mommy and daddy and brother, and maybe other family, but you don't hug strangers. It has taken 4.5 months but the girls are getting it.
Now, they come to us for hugs constantly. This is a way they reassure themselves. We have to be overly affectionate with holding hands, hugging, cuddling, etc. because they are building that reattachment that they were missing.
I would try to speak to the school people since it is so extreme. The biggest thing is that we ask people to give them ONE hug. They can refuse. I would also practice. What exactly is a hug? How long does it last? That sort of thing.
I would NOT make rules you can't enforce. My daughter cannot be appropriate with many adults, esp women. She knows it is wrong to hang on people, try to get praise from them, etc. She simply cannot keep herself from doing it, even if she knows it is wrong, displeasing me, hurting her, etc. SHe can't. And by adding more shame or joy to breaking the rule, it can be a real problem.
When my kids are with me (much easier now that we homeschool), I do make the rule that hugs are only for family and certain special friends. We have those people named, basically. They also know what a hug is and what to do instead, especially if someone asks for a hug (or worse, doesn't ask). We also have plans for when people come to the house. And they know that if a guest feels the needs to say, "oh, she's fine" or "oh, don't worry about it; it's okay," it is their cue to go read or play in their room because things have gone too far.
I also explained why we do these things, especially since they see other families making other choices. My explanation talks about how their heart is broken because what has happened to them and that to heal it, we have to be extra careful with it. We relate it to a more physical injury so they can understand how careful we have to be. Recently, my broken toe has been a help in this endeavor. That or a hand injury helps because those are parts of your body you still have to use, but you don't want to get lemon juice in a papercut or to squeeze your hand too tight if you sliced your finger or whatever or crawl on the floor when you have a skinned knee. We just use whatever we have had recently to help.
Anyway, it is so hard. People really are quite loose with boundaries anyways these days. SOmetimes you don't notice until you have to head it off to help your kiddos.
I do give him a lot of physical attention and hug him most of the times he comes to me. I only refuse when its interrupting one of the other kids' time ( like when I'm working on homework with them) or when it would be dangerous or difficult ( I'm carrying a casserole from the oven or a boiling pot of pasta) or very inappropriate ( I just got out of the shower and am trying to go to my room to change or am in my room changing and he's banging on the doir yelling "HUG!"). Asl the times I say no, I explain why its not a good time then I hug him when I can.
I didn't even know about the hugs at school. I just got a note from his teacher asking me to talk to him about touching other kids. He told me that he likes to give hugs and has been hugging everyone. I can't change his school. He has to go to the public school in our district or I have to pay. If I send him out of district, I lose his free lunches, etc, and have to pay a fee. I will talk to his teacher and principal and get them to stop encouraging it with praise. has some things you can print out for the teachers. I did tell my child's PS teachers NOT to hug her. They were to redirect her, but could go back and give her a 'side-hug' later as long as it was on their terms, not her's. Not all followed that and acted like I was a horrible person. It was very frustrating.
We had a hugger, and here's how we handled it:
1. Hugs to strangers when you are present - step right in immediately and say "Remember, we don't hug strangers." Then, immediately say to the stranger "We're working on learning about safe and appropriate boundaries." Try to say it quickly so they don't have a chance to say the "oh how sweet" thing.
2. Educate the school! Send a letter to the teacher, principal, librarian, etc explaining that your child has boundary issues and you need the school's help in teaching about safe and appropriate boundaries. Give them an exact line to say when he goes in for a hug like "Because we're not family, let's shake hands instead."
3. Sometimes excessive hugging can be related to a sensory issue. Try getting some weighted blankets and stuffed animals to have around the house. When he wants a hug and you're not up for it, explain "You seem like you could use something heavy to hold on to right now, would you like to sit with a weighted blanket for a while?"
Good luck!
I think you have to be very explicit with school and service providers. Does kiddo have an IEP? This could be included. My AD was simillar in kinder. We had a rule with her teacher one hug at arrival at school. After that her teacher did a very sweet pointer finger winking with her. It provided the reassurance she was seeking apprioprately. As others have said I shut down innaproiprate interaction with strangers, fast. Friends we should ask before making physical contact.
Best advice? Get him into see a councilor, therapist, attachment specialist- anyone who you can use as a "backup." Curly was the same way with so much of what you write. She got into attachment therapy right after her third birthday. She helped define guidelines for appropriate behavior with different people. She called her relationship with anyone other than family that wasn't a stranger or a close friend a "professional" relationship. So even her CW that loved to carry her around was directed to be friendly but not unprofessional. Curly was no longer allowed to sit on people's laps other than family. She knew who she was allowed to hug and even learned to say "I save my hugs for my family" to people that asked for them. The therapist did a ton of role playing with her for all situations. It worked wonders!! I mean WONDERS. She is still a super huggy, clingy kid that still crosses the line but when asked she can tell you what she should have done or does do the right thing when she gets a "redo." When working with her school, my family, extended family and the caseworkers it REALLY helped to be able to say "this is the plan that the attachment therapist has laid out for us to work on. It doesn't matter if you agree with the way we have chosen to handle this, she is my child and I am choosing this method to try and work through these behaviors that are the result of a difficult first few years of life."