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Things I’ve Learned #1…Stranger Hugs

September 16, 2010

So I thought I would start using this blog as a place to process through some of the information and strategies I’m learning as I go.  I know there are several people that have either already adopted, in process, or considering that read this blog – so I’m just going to use this format to journal through some of the things that might be helpful to someone else on this journey.

Often time children that are adopted in the toddler/preschool stage will go to anyone.  They will walk up to complete strangers and hold their hands up to be picked up and held.  While we were in Ethiopia with Abigail, this was a frustrating experience for me because I didn’t know what I should do when she did that to people in restaurants, at the guest house, and in public.  A few times she would be upset and crying and a total stranger would approach us and reach out for her.  A very awkward position for me to be in for sure.

Fast forward to having her home.  This was still an issue.  And part of the problem is that it’s a very endearing habit for her to have.  People love it when she approaches them to be held.  No one is going to refuse to pick up that tiny angel of a girl.

First, I decided to just peel her off of people when she did this.  Now talk about awkward.  Here is this sweet little girl that just wants to be held and I’m grabbing her out of the arms of people that I might know, but that she has only just met.  A lot of times, those people have tried to stop me saying “it’s ok!  She’s fine!”.

Which takes us to the main problem of this behavior – it’s not fine.  Think for a minute about one of your biological children at age 2 or 3.  Did they approach any and everyone around them for affection?  No – because they are attached to YOU and everyone else is a stranger to them.  Which is a healthy thing.  But these little ones that have had to fend for themselves to some degree have learned how to get their needs met by any warm bodied adult in their presence.

So with multitudes of awkward moments under our belt, I decided to try a new strategy.  I realized I needed to be more preventative than in the moment with these types of situations.  So I started talking to Abigail about hugging people that she didn’t know.  We role played scenarios where if she wanted to give someone a hug, she needed to ask me if that person was a safe person to hug.  We would walk into the living room and I would pretend to see another adult.  She would meet my eyes and say, “Mommy, can I give them a hug?”  And we would act out both a yes answer and a no answer.

When I first read about this strategy, the book recommended actually finding a stranger to help you role play these scenarios.  We haven’t done that, but what I do now is remind her when someone wants a hug from her that she needs to ask me.  And if she just jumps up in someone’s arms (which is getting fewer and farther between now!) I take her and put her back down and remind her that she needs to ask me.

We really aren’t dealing with this as much as we were in those first couple of months – I actually prefer her response to be shying away from someone wants to hold her.  That communicates a lot.  It says that she is getting her affection needs met by me and John.  It says that she understands that not everyone is a “safe” person to go to.  And it says that she feels confident enough to say “no” to someone to do what she feels is right.  Great, great things for attachment progress!

Stay tuned for more lessons learned along the way – some the easy way, most the hard way.

(I thought I’d throw in this super cute pic that Meme had made last week…she’s just so beautiful!!)

4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 16, 2010 9:26 am

    I used to put together an adoption support group for an old job I had, and I’ll never forget the first meeting I attended/led. There was a little boy around 5 years old who was SO affectionate–completely wooed me. It only took 15min to realize he treate everyone this way! By the end of the evening I was able to see that this was NOT a great thing.

    I think that’s part of what makes adoption tricky. The “good behaviors” (friendly to everyone, zoning out in silence, compliance without any fits) seem outwardly like you have the perfect child (and people will tell you so)!

    We’re anticipating the strange look on peoples’ faces when they hold their arms out for our infant and we have to explain that we need to be the one holding him/her. What have you told friends & strangers when the permission to hug is a “no?”

  2. amy permalink
    September 16, 2010 9:27 am

    I am so looking forward to this series!! Thanks so much for sharing your heart!! It was so nice to meet you in person. .we started the connected child small group at our church last night! So grateful to be learning how to connect with our little girl when we meet her someday!!

  3. September 16, 2010 2:52 pm

    I’m so thankful that you’re doing this as we go through the process–gives me a lot to think about as we prepare to one day bring home our little girl, too.

  4. September 17, 2010 6:15 pm

    I love your blog. Thanks for all the information that you guys are giving out. Mark and I were going to adopt from Taiwan until our social worker told us it would take up to 3 years to get a child. So I have been keeping up with your blog and now we have changed over to Ethiopia. We are so excited about going with this country. Please keep giving out great information. Ibwill be following along while we wait to get matched.
    Shannon McDade

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