Thursday, January 17, 2013

Hugs Are Banned in America - Le Coccole Sono Vietate in America

Here in the US, if your children are craving a hug, they are more likely to get a sticker or a high-five instead, as reported in this Education Week blog posting.

I heard this a few times. Teachers, here in America, cannot touch the children. The Pennsylvania State Education Association offered the following guidelines on the use of touch: (1) consider the age, sex, and perception (maturity) of the child, (2) use touch only to praise or comfort, (3) ensure there is another adult present, and (4) briefly touch only the shoulder or arm. I assumed, when I read this, that number four only applied to the older children attending elementary school classes. More recently, I heard from a mother that the teachers are banned from touching younger children as well.

Get that? A younger child is crying, is desperately in need of comfort (which meets guideline number two). But the co-teacher is out on the playground with a few other children (number three isn't possible!), so you hesitate and then tentatively pat the child on the shoulder (wow, number four applied!). The child isn't remotely comforted, but you can rest your mind as you've followed the guidelines and nobody will be able to sue you for child abuse.

I am often reminded that I live in the land of the puritans but please, "a hug", a simple hug, how can you possibly deny affection to a five year old who is in search for its own identity? Beside, what is wrong with those potentially sexually disturbed teachers that many of you pay the insane amount of $1800 or maybe $2000 per month? Can these expensive teachers not be carefully screened and trusted to give warmth and affection to your children?

It is not just the snuggling that is banned here in the US but any kind of child "touching". At the playground near our house, last summer I was stopped by a mother while I was trying to save her boy from falling from the slide! She was more concerned about me touching her child that about his safety!
But isn't this child abuse? According to Frances Carlson, the author of Essential Touch, Meeting the Needs of Young Children,, "physical contact can be more important to sustaining life than food and water!"

In Italy, private pre-schools charge parents between 400 and 500 euros per month, which is the equivalent of not more than 670 US dollars. The teachers might not know what a reward sticker is but they DO make sure they express warmth and affection, throughout the day to every child they have. I remember looking at Tronk from the transparent glass window in the reception of the Centro Mary Poppins, the Italian daycare he was attending when he was a baby, several times. There, the teachers looked like warm, calm, affectionate, compassionate mothers, rocking their children while gently rubbing their back (not like detached researchers, like in the US). And I saw a teacher behaving in a similar way with a much older child at La Scuola Montessori, the pre-k/elementary school Tronk attended last year in Turin.

So let me get this straight, if most American children are in daycare three to five days per week, full-time, where people are scared to touch them, where do these children get a hug? At home? I am not so sure.

I once got an answer similar to this from an American mother: Well, we used to snuggle when she was a baby. These days, not so much. One day I came home, exhausted from work. I begged her for a hug, I don't do that often but she didn't want to give me one. I begged her a few times but she refused. I didn't get one. At the end, I resigned to the idea that she is a big girl now. I am sure there will be times when she'll need one.

Did she say times in the future when she'll need one? What's this thing about the child making all the decisions even when it is the mother who wants the hug? Is the hug a one way thing that only the child is allowed to ask? What about the mother? Isn't she allowed to have a hug? Should Isis Parenting setup a "Touch your Child, A Two Way Approach" class and charge the parents $300 for teaching them how to touch their children, starting from birth? They already teach a class on how to give massages to infants!...

Like in many other things in America, fear of extreme behaviors, leads to other extreme behaviors: students protesting against hugs bans, a variety of "free hugs Facebook pages", and even to special "hugs your kids" days, challenging the parents to hug their children at least once a day!

Being raised with the "touching parenting model" (le coccole), - and by the way, can I give it this name without getting into trouble with the guidelines? - I cannot imagine how I could possibly see my child for the first time in the morning and not hug him, how I could see him finish a puzzle, all by himself, and not give him a squeeze, how I could see him eating all the food I cooked for him and not pat him on the head, how I could see him put his jacket on by himself, and not give him a kiss, you get my point.

John said that if I could he thinks I would have Tronk permanently attached to my body so I can give him a big, long, tight hug and kisses all day long.

He's probably right. And by the way, when I was in first grade, I remember hugging the teacher every time after receiving a dieci e lode (ten out of ten cum laude) and receiving a smile in return. And I grew up with Topo Gigio, the Italian mouse who used to constantly sing "strapazzami di coccole!" (literally, crash me with hugs!)

And now, if you'll excuse me, I am going to give a few hugs to my boy. I hope you don't think I am a pervert.


  1. Loved this post, Enrica. The lack of touch in elementary schools and even from lots of parents is very sad.

  2. Thank you, Lindy. John said the post came from my heart.