This is part of our “Ask the Institute” blog series. To ask us your question, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Institute for Attachment and Child Development,
My wife and I are pre-adoptive parents to a 7-year-old girl who has been in foster care and multiple homes. She has had over-attachment issues since coming to us. She has hugged strangers at the bus stop and tries to hug and cling to people at the house on average of 15-30 times a day. A professional suggested that we limit hugs temporarily to five times a day. This way, she said, she learns that she gets hugs but also knows that there are healthy boundaries and limits. We give a morning hug, a bedtime hug, and three others during the day. Does this sound appropriate to you?
It’s uncomfortable to raise children with attachment disorder who “over-hug”, especially in our society. Many adults expect affection from children while at the same time want their personal space. This raises all sorts of big questions as parents.
Younger children that suffer from attachment disorder can exhibit a symptom we refer to as indiscriminately affectionate with strangers. They look for acceptance and regard from anyone other than their primary attachment figures. Primary attachment figures are too threatening to children with attachment disorder because of the closeness of those relationships. They often get stiff when their primary attachment figures hug them or they avoid the situation altogether. Instead, the children seek affection from strangers on their terms in which they can control the giving and receiving of affection. As a result, the children receive superficial affection.
I would recommend that you limit your child’s hugs only to you and your wife. You can give permission for family or friends to give hugs but those adults need to set firm boundaries as well. Of course, this may also feel uncomfortable. Your friends and family may not understand and think you’re unreasonable. For this reason, it’s always beneficial to try to educate those within your circle about the intricacies of attachment disorder whenever the opportunity arises.
Best of luck to you!
Take good care,
Executive Director of the Institute for Attachment and Child Development