Helping Your Child Understand The Social Rules Of Hugging

hugWhen you’re little you hug everyone, and everyone hugs you. But when kids grow up, the social rules about hugging change. As kids get older, it is important to break down these social changes so they can be aware of who and when it is appropriate to hug.

As a general rule, I teach the kids I work with that hugging is most appropriate in these 4 situations:

  1. With people you love and trust: You can cuddle with your mom or dad on the couch, you can give your grandma or grandpa a nice long hug, or you can give your best friend a hug. Little kids can sit on their teachers’ lap during circle time or even with their friend’s mommy.
    • Changing social rule: Bigger kids should not be hugging teachers, especially of the opposite sex- this is a changing social rule to teach
  2. Saying hello or goodbye: You haven’t seen your mom’s friend in a long time. You can give a quick hug to show that you are happy to see her. Then step back into the conversation zone and tell what you have been up to.
    • Changing social rule: Adolescent & teenage girls tend to hug each other often, especially when happy to see each other, however boys rarely do this.
  3. When someone is sad: If you see your friend crying, you can give them a hug to show you care about them.
    • Changing social rule: Some people like to be alone when they’re sad, and they may feel uncomfortable or embarrassed if given a hug. To avoid making the situation worse, a child should hold off on giving sympathetic hugs to someone they don’t know very well.
  4. Congratulations: You won the game! Give your friends a quick hug & a high-five!

Of course, there are sometimes other circumstances when it’s okay to hug.There are also times when the situations listed above do not guarantee that a hug is okay. Appropriateness depends largely on the child’s relationships, and level of comfort with those around him (or her). While these rules provide a great foundation to guide your child’s interactions, it’s important to make sure he is taking note of the people he spends time with, and what boundaries they are comfortable with.


Isa Marrs is the Founder and Executive Director of the Where I Can Be Me® social skills program. She is a board-certified speech-language pathologist who specializes in pragmatic language (social skills) disorders in children. Read More