When Pumpkin was in public kindergarten and he started to have problems, I told the teacher that he was a touchy-feely kid and that hugs could fix a lot of things. Sometimes I could even pull him from a threatening melt-down with a good tight hug. “Oh, we’re not allowed to do that,” she said. She offered a big bear she had in the rocking chair in her room as something he could hug, but since it didn’t hug back, Pumpkin wanted nothing to do with it.
I understand how this limitation happened. Like zero tolerance policies for other things, touching could appear inappropriate, and rather than risking a potential lawsuit, many schools simply shut down touches. The problem, rather like all these zero tolerance policies, is that it ends up going too far, offering no exceptions and leaving a teacher to choose between breaking the rule and maybe risking his or her job, or not providing a touch. And we all know that teachers still touch kids. They still lift a child up if they’ve fallen and been hurt, sometimes straighten their shoulders when they’re trying to teach them something physical, or they’ll step in and restrain if children are hurting each other.
However, there is more going on and some of it really not good. The same school district that hired that teacher employed the one that struck Pumpkin that same year. And haven’t we all been reading scary stories about kids being restrained or put into closets in the name of discipline. I’m pretty sure that when Pumpkin had a giant meltdown in class and they removed him, that would have required physically lifting him, though they never said as much.
Pumpkin is a sensory seeker and touch is a big deal. He loves hugs and if he sees me hugging or kissing the baby and I don’t think to immediately pull him into that moment too, he gets a little jealous. If I can take a few minutes in the morning to cuddle Pumpkin, we’ll probably have a good day. If he misses that cuddle time, it’s almost guaranteed we’ll have a bad one.
As a homeschooler, I’m not limited by stupid zero tolerance rules. I can approach discipline on a case-by-case basis, I can allow my children to touch each other reasonably, and I can take time out in the middle of my school day to hug, kiss and pet my babies. An embrace can be a reward for a job well done. I can really pat him on the back and I can smooth his hair.
When I was young, there was a big controversy over some foreign orphanages where children were kept in cribs and never touched. They formed something called attachment disorder from that neglect that meant they couldn’t respond normally in relationships, sometimes unable to communicate or attach to anyone for all of their lives. Doctors then realized the true importance of touch within formative years. Today, when you have a baby, the hospital reminds you about touching and skin to skin contact. Many hospitals require the nurses to track that the first couple of days. And reminders in every baby book and magazine encourage mothers to touch, touch, touch, in the first two years.
All child rearing recommendations are based on an average. What is normal development can actually vary a bit, drastically depending upon disabilities at play. So consider for a moment that touch might still be necessary for a lot of kindergarten aged children. And here we are, sending them off for seven hours of what is probably a twelve hour day to a place where touching is banned. The majority of their day is spent in deprivation. I went to a public school as a child, but we were still allowed to touch each other and to hug the teachers then. And it’s funny, I remember every one of those hugs. I remember the days that my parents were particularly loving and I could be cuddled. Those moments grew fewer and fewer as I grew and secretly, I was sad about that. I adore hugs, and this is one area where I can really understand where Pumpkin is coming from.