One thing that many children I know are missing is simply love and affection. Every day that I go to work, there are children literally reaching out their arms to me. When I am at one of my low-income schools, I get more hugs and desperate pleas for me to “see” them than I could ever count. Who are these needy kids and why do they act out so desperately to get attention? Here’s my hypothesis:
- Most are being raised by single parents, with multiple siblings.
- Many parents are either too detached, depressed, distracted, or tired to take quality time with their kids.
- Some parents are struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues; They are stuck on themselves.
- Some are so busy dating that they neglect to focus their time and energy on their children.
- Some children are not being raised by their parents; many times an aunt, a grandfather, or a grandmother are the substitute parent.
- And, sadly, there are some parents who clearly didn’t intend to become a parent and are resentful of the inconvenience of their children. (I know this sounds harsh but I’ve had some pitiful students even tell me their parents have told them this. So, if it sounds harsh, it is.)
Basically, there are some needy kids because they do need something. They need more than they are getting at home. They need stability, routines, and especially love and affection that they aren’t getting.
Yesterday in a kindergarten guidance class, I was literally mobbed by the boys and girls when I entered. I don’t think it’s because I’m so great. There’s something that’s lacking in their lives to so desperately need a hug and acknowledgment. There was one tall African American girl, in particular, who had a moment half-way through class. I think she was triggered by the boy’s team earning a ‘point'(we do some friendly competition to manage and motivate the students with ‘girls vs. boys’). She stood on the carpet with her arms crossed and her pouty face on as I continued with the class, ignoring her behavior. This stand-off lasted maybe five minutes until every student was seated at the table completing their extension activity. She continued to pout on the carpet, clearly wanting my attention as she didn’t take her eyes off me. (This girl has a history of some anger issues).
When it was convenient for me and all the others kids were busy, I went up to her, her face still crinkled up and her bottom lip sticking out. I gave her no angry reaction and spoke to her in a matter-of-fact tone, “when you get your paper and start working, you earn another sprinkle” (of my magic wand). She continued standing erectly. So, I took her tall body in my arms and just hugged her tight. Her eyes began welling up and I literally saw the anger melting away. What was left was sadness. Behind most anger is actually sadness.(and eyes are the window to the soul) Her body posture and facial expression totally changed as I gently released her and handed her the paper. She quietly went to her table and began working away. Less than five minutes later, she came back up to me.
Oh, great…What made her mad now? No, actually, she wanted to tell me how she used her ‘I-message’ productively with her friend, explaining what she wanted, and it worked! She smiled proudly.
Hugs don’t solve everything but many children are lacking physical touch and attention. Remember the studies on orphaned Romanian babies who were left in their cribs in the 1900’s? They didn’t get human touch as they were left in their cribs all day. As a result, they simply failed to thrive and were more likely to die. Institutionalized children suffer long-term brain alterations and consequences, as do neglected children.(Read more.)
And, then there was the Harlow’s monkeys experiment in the mid 1900’s. Monkeys who were isolated and deprived of touch from a real monkey suffered severe psychological and physical consequences. And, then he studied the difference between wire ‘mothers’ who fed the babies vs. cloth machines. The monkeys went to the cloth. In summary, touch is vitally important as it’s a primal need.
And, many children’s needs are being neglected. No, not just food, shelter, a quiet place to sleep, clothing, and a safe place to play (although, that’s happening a lot more than people believe in this society too). It’s the love and physical attention these kids need. In our society, we don’t overlook abuse but neglect is harder to define and easier to overlook. But, I’m hearing about it and seeing it every day. Sometimes all kids need is a hug or a hand to hold down the hall.
Some kids could literally benefit from a pat-on-the-back. Humans need physical contact and affection. They’re not getting the snuggling in bed while reading books or sitting on the lap of a loved one while talking about their day. And later on in life, they may search for it in the wrong ways and from the wrong people because they have been deprived of appropriate affection.
Words can be complicated, confusing, and misleading to some children. As adults, we rely on them. But, a warm hug, gentle back rub, or walk holding hands can do more for some children than words can ever. So, ‘hug it out’ people!