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TherapistMarryAnn, Therapist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 5809
Experience:  Over 20 years experience specializing in anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol, and relationship issues.
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Our daughter, who is six and in first grade, is compelled to

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Our daughter, who is six and in first grade, is compelled to hug every classmate in line before school every morning. At first it was cute, but now it's getting to be unusual, she's the only one who does it, and clearly many of the kids are annoyed. We've taught her all about personal space and boundaries and to ask first but now are wondering if we should tell her to stop altogether. She's also starting to feel sad that she always has to hug others, that they don't hug her. I feel terrible for her.
Submitted: 6 years ago.
Category: Mental Health
Expert:  TherapistMarryAnn replied 6 years ago.

Hi, I'd like to help you with your problem.

Your daughter sounds like a very affectionate child, but you are concerned that she is too affectionate with hugging her classmates at school. I understand that you are worried about her appearing odd to others and that there might be something unusual about your child.

From what you said, I can see no mental health issues here. Your daughter seems very affectionate and for her age, she may just not understand why she cannot show her feelings for others anyway she wants to. Hugging is a warm and reassuring way to make someone feel loved. Your daughter may just have feelings of closeness to her classmates and friends and wants to make that connection with them.

Having her understand when it is appropriate to hug and when it is not is the main issue here. You have already brought up the issue with her and she responds with sadness. That is ok. Taking it a big further, you might want to try explaining to her that in almost all situations, hugging is saved for very special occasions and only for very close friends. It does not mean that you can't show affection for someone, you just have to substitute other socially appropriate gestures for that affection. Give her an example such as touching someone lightly on the upper arm or saying a very nice thing to them, like "I like your dress". She may find this a bit restrictive, but teaching her socially appropriate gestures is part of her development.

Also, set aside some time at home that she can freely hug everyone in the family. Make it a 15 minute or similar time period and let her express herself. She can also draw pictures of people hugging or have her stuffed animals hug each other. Maybe try a warm fuzzy blanket she can wrap around herself for snuggling. Another idea is to wrap her up in a fluffy towel that has been warmed in the dryer and after her bath at night, snuggle her up on your lap for a short time. These ideas may help curb her need to give affection in public.

I hope this has helped you,


Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Hi, I'd like to follow up a bit on this. We are a very affectionate family and she's got no shortage of hugs and cuddling at home. We've told her that hugs are for families and for special occassions. The problem appears to me to be that this is a compulsion that she can't stop, even when we remind her as we're walking to school, and she agrees, when she gets there, she can't stop herself, and she also hugs too long and too hard. It's clearly not "normal" behavior and I fear her being ostracized. How can we get her to control herself when it comes down to it? Thanks!
Expert:  TherapistMarryAnn replied 6 years ago.

Ok, I understand. Thanks for the follow up.

You can also try a reward system. Each day she doesn't give a hug to someone in public, she gets a predetermined reward. It can be anything you both agree is fun and exciting to her, and that you feel would be a good motivator for her.

Also, try sending her to school with something she can substitute for hugs. Maybe a small stuffed animal (if it's ok with the school teacher), or something with good textile sensation, like a fuzzy key chain. Let her know that each time she feels the need to hug, she is to use this item to distract herself.

Both of these techniques are based in behavior modification and should work if your daughter's problem is behavior based.

If all else fails and you see no progress within the next few months, have your daughter see a child therapist for an evaluation. My bet is that this behavior can either be redirected or she will grow out of it. However, there may be a small chance there is something else going on here. With the lack of other symptoms, I highly doubt it, but it can't hurt to rule it out. What matters here is what your daughter feels like if she doesn't hug. The concern is that it has turned into a compulsion and in that case, a therapist can be a big help in solving her problem. Her doctor or your local community mental health facility can provide referrals if you need one.

You are doing what you can at this point so try not to worry. Most children at that age are more forgiving of others' behavior differences than at later ages so by the time the problem works itself out, the behavior will be long forgotten by her classmates.


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