Showing Kids (Appropriate) Affection

If you work with kids on a regular basis, you no doubt want to be a nurturing presence in their lives. Yet, how does one strike a balance between showing kids that you care and keeping appropriate boundaries?

The truth is, we can not only show affection to kids appropriately, but we can also show them by example what a healthy relationship with an adult looks like. By practicing some of the following tips (many gleaned from Kennedy Krieger Institute), the children and teens in our lives will feel cared for and respected.

  1. Respect their personal space. Some children - just like adults - need more space than others. While an affirming pat on the shoulder might reassure some kids, others will give you nonverbal signals that they would rather not be touched.
  2. Never force affection. Allow kids to express themselves in their own way, but do not push them for hugs or even affectionate words. 
  3. Don't corner them. Tell kids that you're proud of them, that you enjoyed teaching them, or that you'll miss seeing them over the summer. But keep things light and don't pressure them to respond in kind.
  4. Consistently affirm them in small ways. Eye contact, a listening ear, and following up on previous conversations make children feel valued. Thumbs-up, high-fives, and handshakes are all small ways to show kids you care.

As a caring adult, you are a role model to kids in a myriad of ways. One of these is the way in which you show affection in a healthy, appropriate way.

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