Blogging about life in Minnesota, raising our six kids with Down syndrome while battling Breast Cancer.

Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the floor in the morning the devil says, "Oh shit! She's up!"

Monday, October 22, 2012

About Those Hugs

As  much as I dislike stereotypes, there is one characteristic that is common to many kids with Down syndrome, and that's the hug factor. I do know kids with DS who don't like to hug, but most that I know will hug nearly anyone they meet.

If you are a parent of a young child with DS, I have some news for you:

It is not cute, nor is it safe, for your child to hug everyone they see. 

If I had a typically developing 6 year old, would I want them walking up to strangers and hugging them? Absolutely not. (at least I HOPE not!) So why, because my kid has DS, is this ok? Do you realize how vulnerable it makes my child? Your child is just as vulnerable when you allow the hugs.

I once watched a documentary where several pedophiles were interviewed. One of the statistics mentioned was that if you were put into a room with 100 complete strangers, statistically 2 of them would be pedophiles. So when we turn our kids loose in that room, they have a very good chance of hugging that person. But don't think they have to hug them to be vulnerable. Maybe they hugged the person NEXT to the pedophile, or even someone 10 feet away. If you don't think the pedophile was paying attention and making a mental note on who the easy target was, think again.

When Angela was little she, too, liked to hug everyone. We had a mantra "Hugs are for family, handshakes are for friends." that we recited every time we walked into a public place and we would talk about who was going to be there. The conversations went something like this:

Me: We're going into the grocery store. What's the rule?
Angela: Hugs are for family, handshakes are for friends.
Me: Who works at the check out?
Angela: Diane
Me: Is Diane a friend or family?
Angela: family.
Me: Really? Does she come to Thanksgiving or Christmas with us?
Angela: No. She's a friend.
Me: Right, Diane is a friend. What's our rule?
Angela: Hugs are for family, handshakes are for friends.
Me: Does Diane get a  hug?
Angela: No, she's a friend. No hugs.

I also had to put my foot down with school staff. "Why is my child allowed to hug school staff? These are nothing more than good acquaintances to her and she should not be hugging them." It was tough to follow through with until I asked them if they would allow THEIR child to hug everyone at school? The answer was usually no.

Axel was a little more difficult. Being newly adopted he had no idea who was "family" or what that meant. We were ALL new to him so how was he supposed to distinguish one person from another? We spent 6 months following very strict rules to help him get it figured out. Nobody but Dean or I would give him foods (including treats or snacks) We were the only people to help him with anything. All of his needs and wants were satisfied by us and nobody else. Nobody...and I mean nobody...but us were allowed to give or receive hugs with Axel. If they didn't live in our house they were not allowed a hug.

Somewhere around 6-7 months we loosened the slack a bit. One day Dean's parents came over and I let them know they could give him a hug. Axel leaned in with just a shoulder but looked to us to make sure it was o.k. What a milestone that was! We also developed a small poster of a circle chart. Picture a target:

The very center circle of the target contains pictures of Axel hugging those who live in our household. The next outer ring contained pictures of Axel hugging grandparents, aunts and uncles, but in all the pictures mom or dad were standing right there as well. The next ring was pictures of Axel giving handshakes or fist bumps to people like his phy ed teacher, the doctor, bus driver, etc. This worked well to help Axel learn who was family and who was not!

Asher, adopted almost one year ago, is an entirely different story. We have been pretty strict about the no hugging rule but it is clear Asher has many issues surrounding attachment. (He is definitely somewhere on the spectrum of RAD.) If we're in a public place Asher has been known to grab the hand of a total stranger walking by and let go of mine! If I didn't say anything he would keep walking with him. The interesting thing is the reaction of the stranger. They always look at me kind of scared, with an "I swear I didn't have anything to do with it!" kind of look on their face. If I were to guess I'd say he's looking for another mother who doesn't have any of those dang rules like no sucking on your tongue, no dangling or grinding your teeth! These total strangers are completely flattered  this child is trying to hug them. Please...don't take it personally! Asher will do this with absolutely every.person.he.meets. And, just like hugging, it is so very much NOT SAFE!

Angela is 16 now, and we are STILL trying to undo the hugging habit, because it is NOT CUTE at 16 years old to hug whomever you meet. If I could go back to having a little Angela again, I would  institute the same hugging rule we have for the boys.

"Hugs are for family, handshakes are for friends!"


The Sumulong 3 said...

This is such a good lesson for all parents. Owen will not hug someone unless we say "OK, give hugs". He will shake people's hands though, but again only if we say it's OK. I will continually keep this in mind for the future!

Speechless said...

Agree 1000%. It is NOT cute. I have this same exact conversation with K everywhere we go. He will comply if I'm in the room or if thinks that I will find out...if not, it's fair game. The worst if when people ASK him to hug them and then I get to look like the mean mommy, again.

It's very frustrating to school staff allow the hugging...I have a middle school student (male) who now hugs *every* single girl that he sees in the hall, whether they want it or not. Not appropriate. Allowing it at just setting kids up to fail.

Becca said...

Excellent, excellent post. We, too, have been working on the hugging thing with Samantha, and she's definitely getting much, much better. The school staff is working on it, too. Thanks for this. I am going to go link to it on Facebook - I think everyone should read this.

Team Lando said...

Pinning and saving for when Ellie gets a little older!