I remember a time when my oldest son wouldn’t accept any physical affection from us. He was in his late-teens and going through a very difficult time. Every time I’d try to wrap him up in a hug, he’d become stiff and unresponsive. I had thought that a loving touch could help to heal his broken heart. But he was in too much emotional pain.
My touch made him angry and I felt hurt. There were things I didn’t understand at that time though. He was hurt and angry and I wasn’t seeing his perspective. When I’m angry, I don’t want to be touched either. That doesn’t mean I don’t need comfort and understanding. Yet, I’m not happy when someone invades my personal space either.
Kids with reactive attachment disorder sometimes reject physical affection. As a parent, you may feel confused and hurt. Meanwhile, your child is struggling as well.
Here are 5 ideas if your child doesn’t accept your hugs:
1. Help him to make the hug his idea. Ask if you can do something to comfort him. If he says he doesn’t know, give some ideas and include a hug in that list. He might surprise you and accept.
2. Don’t take it personally. My son was working through his problems but he wasn’t trying to hurt me personally. He just didn’t want a hug.
3. Understand the reason behind it. Sometimes, kids feel unworthy of love and push it away. This doesn’t mean you should stop offering hugs. It can help you to understand from where his reaction stems. (Read: Why do people with reactive attachment disorder seem to reject love?)
4. Find other forms of loving touch. In cases of sexual abuse history, hugs can feel unsafe and intrusive. To replace hugs, you can try a high five, fist bump, or shoulder pat. Even if it doesn’t feel like enough for you, it may be enough for your child.
5. If hugs continue to be an issue, you can try therapy. A therapist can get to the root of the issue so you don’t have to play a guessing game at home.
Whatever you do, don’t give up. Kids need affection. It’s a big deal to make sure they receive it.
Learn more about the dynamics of attachment disorder and how to cope as a parent. Visit our video page and invite Forrest to speak to your parent group or organization.