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When Did a Big Hug Become a Bad Thing?

Posted by on in Social Emotional Learning
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There was a time when the conventional wisdom was that we needed four hugs a day to survive, eight hugs a day to maintain, and 12 to grow. Later, as media reports of sexual assault cases spread like viruses, along with fear of lawsuits, educators and children were schooled in “bad touch” versus “good touch” (a hug was one of the latter). Now, more and more, we have no touch.



But isn’t this child abuse? According to Frances Carlson, author of Essential Touch: Meeting the Needs of Young Children, physical contact can be more important to sustaining life than food and water! As she told me in an interview for Body, Mind and Child, children need physical contact in order to thrive and grow in every aspect of development. She cited research indicating that when children are denied touch, they fail to grow physically and to develop the emotional and social skills they need to succeed in early childhood and in life.


Here’s a game that will ensure hugs happen! If you have a no-touch policy in place, you should play it with the children. This game will at least ensure that the children are getting hugs from each other!


Musical Hugs

Cognitive benefits:

  • Developing listening skills
  • Differentiating between sound and silence
  • Practicing counting


Social/emotional benefits:

  • Experiencing feelings of belonging
  • Enjoying positive physical contact
  • Learning self-expression
  • Learning self-regulation


Physical benefits:

  • Learning to start and stop
  • Performing moderate-intensity physical activity



  • CD player
  • Musical recording(s)


How to Play

While the music is playing, the children (and teachers) move around the room any way they wish. When you stop the music, the players hug whoever is closest to them.


Another Way to Play:

For a slightly more challenging version of the game, two players hug during the first round, three players hug during the second round, four with the third round, and so forth, until there’s just one big group hug!


Adapted from Great Games for Young Children by Rae Pica (Silver Spring, MD: Gryphon House, 2006)

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Rae Pica has been an education consultant specializing in the development and education of the whole child, children's physical activity, and active learning since 1980. A former adjunct instructor with the University of New Hampshire, she is the author of 19 books, including the text Experiences in Movement and Music and, most recently, What If Everybody Understood Child Development?: Straight Talk About Bettering Education and Children's Lives. Rae has shared her expertise with such groups as the Sesame Street Research Department, the Head Start Bureau, Centers for Disease Control, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, Nickelodeon's Blue's Clues, Gymboree, Nike, and state health departments throughout the country. She is a member of the executive committee of the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences and is co-founder of BAM Radio Network, where she hosts Studentcentricity, interviewing experts in education, child development, play research, the neurosciences, and more on teaching with students at the center.

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Guest Saturday, 23 June 2018