Hugging Instructions? Yep.

Just when you thought Pedophile Panic couldn’t get any weirder comes this comment from a reader:

A training document distributed at my church a few weeks ago for people who work with children actually tried to instruct in how to hug a child. The sentence said, “Remember: Side hugs are best.”

Side hugs? How about being even a little safer and saying hi with a friendly elbow-to-elbow tap? Or quick pinky-to-pinky press? Or perhaps the “Heel Hello” — whereby two people meet backwards, heel to heel. That way there’s no accidental nipple grazing, either!

53 Responses

  1. Sounds like whoever wrote the guidelines could use a hug.

  2. You canNOT greet each other heel to heel! YOUR BUMS WILL TOUCH! Honestly, I’m surprised they give hugging guidelines at all since it would be much easier (and “safer” ) to just ban the practice out right. Very sad.

  3. I guess I’ve been hugging all wrong. For women, I generally wrap both my arms around her upper back. If I have romantic interest in her, my right arm drifts a little lower to, you know, her waist. Whenever I hug a man, it’s hand-shake/one arm across the upper back. I generally follow these rules with minors, too. Guess I need to stop being such a perv, huh?

    Side hugs are really inadequate when comfort is needed. From being on both the receiving and giving ends of close-contact comfort, I can state this with great certainty. This might be kind of essential in a church, since they’re supposed to be places of redemption and comfort.

    And I think I’m going to steal the “heel hello” if someone tells me I’m interacting with a student in a suggestive way. Hopefully their BS-o-meter will flare up and they’ll leave me alone.

  4. Ha ha ha! This reminds me of a quote from the Simpsons between Ned Flanders and Reverend Lovejoy:

    Flanders: Reverend, I’m, uh, I’m afraid something terrible has happened.

    Lovejoy: Well, sit down and rap with me brother, that’s what I’m here for.

    Flanders: [sits] I was talked into doing a dance called “The Bump,” but my hip slipped and my … my buttocks came into contact with the … buttocks of another young man.

    Lovejoy: [pause] I … see.

  5. Ugh, that reminds me of something that happened to a gay friend of mine who works at a daycare. One of the staff members told some of the boys who went there that they shouldn’t hug him.

    Because of course any sort of same-sex affection will turn an otherwise helpful and great staff member who happens to be gay into a raging pedophile/rapist.

    Side hugs? Really?

  6. Air high-fives. It’s the only way to be safe.

  7. Oh, I didn’t know there were rules for hugging. I might have gotten my doctor in trouble today then. You see, he is the best pediatrician in the world. He actually really cares about his patients, gives high fives, pats on the back, hugs, and kisses on owies. He knew what we had been through for the past week and a half with the boys and how little sleep I have gotten, on top of the normal special needs crud we have daily. After our appointment today, where more crud was piled on us, he reached over and hugged me. It was a real hug. Now, he used just one arm (the other had his computer in it), but it was a standard hug besides the one arm bit. Guess I better inform him of the rules. Doesn’t matter that he was supporting a Mom that’s at the end of her rope. It’s all about the rules. Of course, I better tell him to quit being so nice to my kids too, now that I know he’s grooming them for molestation. GAG

  8. Katenonymous, but what if one of those air high fives accidentally hits a passer-by in the nose, thus causing hemmorhaghing, and sudden death? No, air high fives are FAR, FAR too dangerous to try.

  9. UGH.

    I work in kindergarten. If we couldn’t give our students hugs when they needed them, the majority of our day would be spent trying to calm tears with a “Stop crying now, plz.” And we all know that’s not gonna happen.

    A lot of kids really need that physical contact. My personal charge is the sweetest little boy with developmental issues. He would pretty much wilt and never talk if I wasn’t allowed to hug him proper and have him sit in my lap sometimes. Or heaven forbid, if my school had one of those crazy “no contact between students at all” policies I’ve heard about. The hugs he gives and gets from his classmates are huge milestones for him developmentally and really give him a boost because show me a kid who is different and I’ll show you one with low self-esteem.

  10. My younger brother was born with spina bifida and other disorders of the nervous system, which meant he has always had a high need for touch. His teachers knew this; yet one damaged him terribly by refusing to touch him, giving him the impression that he was too worthless to touch. He was 7 and in second grade. His teacher the year before had gone out of her way to make sure he got enough touch; holding him on her lap during storytime, patting him on the shoulder when she’d go to his desk, etc. After that awful teacher, he developed a lot of emotional problems he still has.

    Oh, but good thing he was “safe”, huh?

  11. When I was 17, my school required volinteer service to graduate, and pretty much assigned us to one project or another. I was assigned to work once a week as a teacher’s aide at an inner city school.

    Those kids . . . they’d see me come in and run over for their hugs. No one much hugged them much at home, and it was at the school that they got hugs, and attention, and for that matter, saw a nurse or even got fed in some cases. I’m not much of a huggy person, and I was even less so at 17. But I knew those kids needed those hugs, and so they got them.

    Its bad enough to deprive any child of affection; they need it, its biological. But don’t these people realize that there are millions of underprivileged children that despirately need affection and support from adults (or even teenagers) that they do not get at home?

  12. Side hug seems worse/ More opportunity for gropage.

  13. When my kids were in charter school, a woman who was also a mom at the school and in addition taught art was soooo happy when she got a position at another school, so that she could ‘regular hug’ the kids she worked with, as well as the kids she had gotten close to at the school our kids attended. As staff, she was only allowed to side hug. This is 10 years ago. I was astounded.

  14. My friend was just booted from his congregation for hugging the kids he worked with through the church music program and youth groups. And sending them encouraging text messages, like “Have a wonderful day!”

    They told him he could only come back if he got “the same counseling all pedophiles need”.


  15. I have two kids of my own, but long before they were born, I worked for many years at a resident summer camp. We were instructed both on the proper way to restrain a violent child in order to not involve the hands and how to apply sunscreen on the younger campers. (No cupping! Open palms, fingers apart!) We also got the side-hug lecture. This was a decade ago. It has only gone downhill from there. And can I say from experience how difficult it is to console a homesick third grader with a freaking side hug? Yeah, so I broke some rules. Sue me.

  16. Maggie, your story frightens me.

  17. Uh, yep. Been thru substitute teacher training; was pretty much told the same thing (no contact, but if a kid came up to hug you, turn sideways). I’m also involved with Scouts- we are NOT allowed to apply sunscreen, even at the all-day Day Camp here in the south. Same thing with the org. I work for– no sunscreen app, minimal contact. (sigh) It’s the kids who don’t get the hugs at home & need it that I feel bad for….lots of foster kids in the system, etc.

  18. Ugh, we’ve been hearing the “side hug” lecture for years at our church. But the thing is, it only becomes a problem if the men hug the children, not the women. Because we all know there are no female pervs out there, right? Oh, wait a minute…

  19. I got the same line in teacher training 15 years ago. No front hugs, only side hugs, never tough a child with your fingers, only pat on the shoulder with your palm…

    They told us it was to protect US during student teaching from lawsuit happy parents. We all had to pay for our liability insurance ourselves in case we were sued.

  20. Churches carry liability insurance and due to the lawsuits filed by past sexual abuse victims some insurance carriers are now requiring church staff training and awareness to (hopefully) lessen the number of future sexual abuse victims/lawsuits. That may be why the church is distributing the information. Some states may also have regulations about training staff/volunteers who work with children (including church workers) so some of this may be coming from requirements of other agencies outside the church.

  21. I was going to suggest fist-bumps but that would probably be construed as child abuse. You can’t just go around punching kids on their fists!

  22. My dad always side hugged my sister and I – if we got a hug at all. We laughed at it but really, it bothered both of us. Such a dumb thing – imagine not cuddling with a baby… what’s the point?

  23. @whatthehay – that’s so sad.

    On a different tack I do wonder what a good way is to keeping kids safe from adult carers. Because ai know in my free range youth as kids we definitely felt that we wouldn’t be believed if we told someone a teacher, youth group leader etc. Had done something inappropriate. But nowadays my teacher friends follow these kinds of asinine rules as a way to try and insulate themselves from false accusations.

  24. Just yesterday I saw the janitor at our school walk through a crowd of children. He always raises his arms up over his head when he’s in a crowd. Always. I think it’s sad that he can’t walk through the hallways like a normal person but instead has to worry that bumping into someone might be misconstrued.

  25. My DH is a teacher and this is how he was told to react if a child tried to hug him…….he does it because if he doesn’t he could be sacked or put on suspension if a parent complained he hugged their child……….I was horrified that my tiny 5 year old who started school last year would would not be hugged if he hurt himself…….its INSANE we will breed a generation of kids with no compassion or ability to comfort their own children. PEOPLE we need to remember children need touch to survive do we not remember the experiments they did on attatchment in the 50’s, children died from no touching or hugging……we need to be sensible. Next they will be telling me as a fostercarer I can’t hug our 10 month old fosterson! grhhhhhh

  26. This just makes me SO sad. I’m pretty sure that if my 4-year old got hurt or upset at preschool or church he’d still get a nice, big, loving hug. I can’t explain how sad it makes me to think of other kids not getting that- ANY kids, but now that people have mentioned it, ESPECIALLY kids who don’t get that at home.

  27. LOL! Yeah, right, try implementing THAT one in a Mediterranean country! The authorities here just got a deafening laugh at their suggestion of erradicating our custom of greeting women with two kisses, due to the swine flu…
    Side hugs, really?

  28. I recently volunteered to be a Beaver leader. In Canada that is one level below what you in the US call “Cub Scouts”, within the Scouting movement. For 5 to 7 year olds. When I bought the manual for leaders, and started reading it, I literally got a sick feeling inside with the pages and pages dedicated to “how not to be a pedophile” (my paraphrase, not a direct quote). It was really depressing. Of course the sad part is knowing that every rule is probably there because someone did something like that, but surely those travesties were very much the minority cases.

  29. As a preschool teacher, therapist, and foster care caseworker, I’ve heard this speech from people a million times… and its never stopped me from hugging a child. It may come back and bite me in the butt one day – but it will have been worth it.

  30. I’m a pastor. A lot of this is being driven by insurance companies, not panicky church members. My congregation was informed by our insurance company that they would not renew our policy unless we had an anti-sexual abuse policy in place that met their standards. I’m all for sensable measures protecting kids from potential abusers, but the insurance company is really just concerned about potential liability claims and thus the standards they require include stuff like the “side-hugging” rule. If your church/preschool/scout troop or whatever is instituting policies that seem way out there beyond what is sensible and reasonable, just know that these are very likely coming from their insurer, not from the pastor, church board, etc.

  31. If this is how things are going in the world, then it’s just a matter of time before we all get the big “P” stamped on our foreheads. Does this qualify? My husband and his dad have greeted each other the same way for years: they do the full-body hug and kiss each other…ON THE MOUTH! Being from Poland, it’s the normal way to show affection between close family members. My kids, being raised around people “from the old country,” have had to be careful outside of immediate family when greeting others, it’s really become like walking a fine line between letting your close friends know you care and being standoff-ish.

  32. One of the things that I enjoy about this site is that fearmongering is not tolerated and everyone is happy to do some mythbusting on long held (yet inaccurate) beliefs about kids, safety, helicopter parents, etc.

    So on that note it would be beneficial to bust a couple of fear mongering “myths” being posted in these threads:

    1. Parents are not going around “sue happy” when someone hugs their child. Lawsuits that are being filed are often by adults who were victimized as children and are coming forward later, often after YEARS of being victimized. No parent wants to put
    their child through a lawsuit so when a lawsuit does
    get filed, it is usually because of the devasating nature of repeated abuse of the child.

    2. Children rarely make false accusations about sexual abuse. This is especially rare for a young child to make a false accusation. Less than 1 % of reported cases are false.

    So the idea that all these teachers/volunteers, etc. are fearful of hugging a child because all these kids are just poised to make false reports or be sued by the kids parents is fearmongering bunk on the flip side.

  33. @Socialwrkr24/7

    “As a preschool teacher, therapist, and foster care caseworker, I’ve heard this speech from people a million times… and its never stopped me from hugging a child. It may come back and bite me in the butt one day – but it will have been worth it.”


    @Into The Wild!

    “My husband and his dad have greeted each other the same way for years: they do the full-body hug and kiss each other…ON THE MOUTH!”


    It’s so nice to read about the many adults who continue to give warm, loving care to our children – and each other!

  34. @Kim – Where do you get the “less than 1% of reported cases are false”?

    I used to be a police officer and one thing I learned was that with crimes that happen in private where the parties involved give different accounts of what happened there is often very little evidence that allows you to objectively determine what actually happened for sure. So I’m curious how anyone could find the truth in 99+% of cases.

  35. Just wanted to make you aware that another approach that empowers people to be genuinely caring and appropriately affectionate is not only possible but has a long historical tradition. Here is a link to a research project done in the UK specifically on the issue of touch in school and childcare situations.

    They had to completely rethink their assumptions when they encountered Summerhill School, the democratic school founded by A.S. Niell in 1921, where staff and students are so comfortable with each other and their school situation that they regularly touch each other without being persecuted. They also know that if discomfort occurs then the children, not just the adults, have an effective and mutually respectful forum in which to work out the difficulty to everyone’s complete satisfaction.

    There are hundreds of democratic schools around the world with many here in the United States.


    Don Berg

    Free E-book: The Attitude Problem in Education

  36. Ok, I’m a teacher and I shake my kids’ hands every morning as they come in the door. I hug most of my kids at least once a week, most 3 or 5 times a week. (I have a couple of abuse survivors that have asked not to be touched and I respect that.) Yes it is a side hug – but as a child that is how non family but close adults (like teachers) hugged me.

    I also give high fives, pats on the back, and occasionally threaten a kick in the rear if they don’t get it in gear. At least they know that idiom. I threatened to lower the boom one time – and the poor kid actually thought I would hit him. Thankfully his mother saw the humor in the situation.

    If you see me in a large group of people I often put my hands up. Part of it is my contact allergy is potentially deadly so I am careful about what I touch. It is a preprogrammed reaction to being in close quarters.

    I’ve seen our custodians do the same thing – because of the chemicals they have been using. I’ve heard them tell kids, Sweetheart I can’t give you a hug till I take off these gloves/wash my hands. I can see it becoming 2nd nature if they are avoiding touching kids because of what they have been using.

    Our principal hugs kids, gives them high fives, and pats on the back – and …………………………………. he is a man in an elementary school.

  37. On a somewhat related note, my daughter is involved in a campus ministry that works with kids in a residential treatment facility (popularly formerly known as a reform school) and she had to get state clearances to work with them. Eighteen years old, and she had to list every address back to her birth.

    Thing is, when the college students get prepped to work at this place, they are warned, practically terrorized, to BE CAREFUL because these kids can’t be trusted due to their history. ESPECIALLY the girls are warned, and even instructed not to dress too “attractively.”

    But it’s my daughter who has to get the clearances, because the kids are juveniles. Ironic. I understand the necessity because there have been cases of people deliberately working with troubled kids because they know they’re easy pickings for abuse, but it’s still ironic.

  38. I am not sure where to send this, so here ya go:

    town bans trick or treating for safety reasons =o(

  39. @helen – Thanks for the great question about where I received my “Less than 1% of reported cases are false” It’s a tad boring.. but here is where I draw my statistical information:

    How often do children’s reports of abuse turn out to be false? Research has consistently shown that false allegations of child sexual abuse by children are rare. Jones and McGraw examined 576 consecutive referrals of child sexual abuse to the Denver Department of Social Services, and categorized the reports as either reliable or fictitious. In only 1% of the total cases were children judged to have advanced a fictitious allegation. Jones, D. P. H., and J. M. McGraw: Reliable and Fictitious Accounts of Sexual Abuse to Children. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 2, 27-45, 1987. In a more recent study, investigators reviewed case notes of all child sexual abuse reports to the Denver Department of Social Services over 12 months. Of the 551 cases reviewed, there were only 14 (2.5%) instances of erroneous concerns about abuse emanating from children. These consisted of three cases of allegations made in collusion with a parent, three cases where an innocent event was misinterpreted as sexual abuse and eight cases (1.5%) of false allegations of sexual abuse. Oates, R. K., D.P. Jones, D. Denson, A. Sirotnak, N. Gary, and R.D. Krugman: Erroneous Concerns about Child Sexual Abuse. Child Abuse & Neglect 24:149-57, 2000….Children Tend to Understate Rather than Overstate the Extent of Any Abuse Experienced – Research with children whose sexual abuse has been proven has shown that children tend to minimize and deny abuse, not exaggerate or over-report such incidents.

  40. Ok… Side hug? Really?
    I officially nominate “Side Hug” as a name for a kinky sex practice.

  41. Well, I never have and probably will never turn down a hug from someone. But I will not start them also, I learned as a kid that it make some other people uncomfortable to be hugged. This is to the point I only will hug someone who i know wants a hug.

    Being a kid who was born in the 90s who has grown up on TV and video games, I personally like hugs, but I since I want to be accepted I will not start it with someone i feel might need one but i never hugged.

    I was a touchy feely kid tell i hit my teens when i realized that it not a good thing to be that way with guys and only with girls you love. But, having 3 little brothers the same way as I was I never was with out them tho.

    I been in American scouts since I could get in. Even today I still work with them as much as i can.

    “A hug is something that is free…
    And priceless to get ”


  42. I’d leave a comment…but…I’m….laughing too much.

  43. I am with the former cop on questioning the 1% figure. The CPS agency I worked for had an “unable to determine” category that was not insignificant. After casworkers, LEA, often the deputy district attnys and sometimes even a therapist got through looking as an allegation, we just didn’t know, or had substantial disagreement. For sure sometimes there just wasn’t a case that would likely hold up in court. I would be amazed if a researcher can really review 100 allegations and definitively assign true/false designations without relying on some very arbitrary and unrealistic determinations.

    The big problem is that pedophiles cover their grooming behavior using normal types of physical interaction, especially initially in public settings. It can obviously give normal healthy behavior (ie hugging) a bad name. They do all the same things normal caring adults do interacting with children but it is what is going on in their heads and where they intend to take an interaction in more private settings with the child that is the big problem.

    As a society we are still sorting out how much risk is too much regarding normal behaviors that could have dual intentions. Right now we are clearly letting the insurance companies do this for us even more than LEA or socialworkers. Remember no liability insurance=no children programs or activities in many cases. It is all a maddening trade off that few could have imagined three decades ago.

  44. As a new parent, as a teacher with 16 yrs experience, and as a male, I am regularly aware of this issue. I have seen the quick response that rumor has in the education world when excellent teachers have lost jobs through hearsay alone. This is just another reason there are few men in early childhood education. Those with the compassion and nurturing strengths needed are not allowed to use them and are held constantly in suspicion.

  45. Everyone! Get back in your bubbles!

  46. Free Hugs!!!!

  47. […] Hugging Instructions? Yep. – Irrational panic of children has now reached the point where churches are distributing training documents on hugging.  The ludicrousness of this reminded one commenter of Flanders.  It’s perfectly quoted and plenty apt, excellent usage. […]

  48. The reason for this little bit of “hugging instruction” is for the safety of the people who volunteer their time as Sunday School teachers. With all the paranoia, it was determined that the side hug had to be the norm in order to prevent some hysterical person from accusing an innocent person of nefarious groping of a child. Believe me, as one of the people who is responsible for helping institute this policy at our church, it was done with much head-shaking at the paranoia that made this important. But in order to keep us as free from accusations/lawsuits, etc., this was the necessary evil length we had to go to.

  49. My kindergarten teacher taught us this song, and ever since then my mom has called me her “Four Hugs Girl.”

    She even bought me this book:

    I’m now a certified hug therapist.

    I can’t imagine a world where I couldn’t hug people who needed it. The teenage girls in my church are bug huggers, and some of the men were uncomfortable with it. It was when they talked with the bishop that we initiated the side-hug policy. Too bad, but at least they didn’t tell the girls they couldn’t hug anymore.

  50. I am doing a research paper on this subject for school! I was wondering if anyone knew where I could find more scholarly articles on the topics of teacher having contact with students, like hugging. I volunteer at an elementary school in a class of first graders and when those children are upset and crying or hurt, and even scared how is is not appropriate to give them a hug to comfort them. There are obviously lines that should not be crossed but….depriving the students of all physical contact with the teacher, their role model for the majority of their day, just doesnt seem right to me.

  51. At our volunteer training for work within the school district, we are also taught only to use side hugs, and to get down on the child’s level (which for kindergarteners means getting on your knees—pretty tough for our older volunteers). You have to be so careful that no action is misinterpreted. It’s really quite sad.

  52. While hugs can be so beautiful to give and to receive, it is important to know when to give and not to give them and what type of hug to give. There are so many different types of hugs that work for so many different situations. Just be aware and be sensitive to the needs of others whether spoken or unspoken.

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