Parents dread the first time their middle schooler rejects their hug by pulling angrily away and hissing, “Stop!” It seems backwards that just when a child’s self-esteem takes the hardest hit, they refuse comfort from the people who care most about them.
After speaking with many middle schoolers, I’ve learned there are specific situations in which they’re willing to be hugged – but only in the right way. Parents would be wise to heed the Hugging Rules:
1. Let your middle schooler initiate the hug, at least most of the time. You’ll get a more satisfying hug that way.
2. Don’t linger. A quick hug, especially if it happens when you’re saying good-bye, is more appreciated than a long (translation: embarrassing) one.
3. Do it in private as much as possible. Within the family is safe, at bedtime is usually acceptable (you can even sneak in a kiss then, too), but at school you’re in dangerous territory.
4. Save the big hugs for holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving. (Okay, the 12-year-old boy who shared this one got laughs and teasing from his peers.)
As with all rules, there are exceptions: some middle schoolers say they have no problem at all with hugging their parents anywhere, anytime, while some parents complain about overly affectionate middle schoolers.
But for some parents, the best advice is to treat your middle schooler as you would a persnickety cat – approach only when invited, be thankful for any affection you get, and try not to take any rejection personally.