It feels like only a few days ago that I was holding our sweet, sticky-handed, little boy in my lap while reading to him a book about a little gorilla playing in the jungle. And yet, here today, I sit across the kitchen table from a half boy- half young man who is inching closer to my height daily and currently spouting off fairly creative excuses about why his homework is dumb and doesn’t need to be finished right now.
Like every mother before me, I am baffled about how time happened. I had a sweet, cuddly, smiling little boy and then I blinked.
Family therapist, Virginia Satir, said that human beings need four hugs a day to survive. She went on further to include that eight hugs would help us maintain and twelve hugs daily would allow us to grow.
When kids are little, the hugs fit into the day easily; there is snuggling before and after naps, there are booboos that need kissing, books to be read on laps, chubby cheeks to be kissed, and hands to hold on walks.
But then the kids grow, and grow, and grow just like that Little Gorilla in the book by Ruth Bornstein, and the hugs come a little less naturally. My biggest boy, a tween, is too big now for me to pick him up, or sit on my lap for a story, or hold my hand through the parking lot. He rushes from school to practice to the dinner table to do whatever it is that helps him unwind (currently that’s heading to the woods to switch out his trail cams).
I know that those minimum four hugs still need to be counted, and so my physical affection to my tween has to be intentional now. I want our relationship at all stages –but especially this challenging middle part – to be more than just nagging and instruction, which often leads to the very worst relationship of all: avoidance.
So, how do I get those four hugs a day to a growing son? I get creative, intentional, and make sure that he feels comfortable too.
He is changing and growing in all the weird ways – so I’m not trying to force anything on him. But the physical affection can still be present every day to make sure he is surviving, maintaining, and hopefully growing even through this tricky part of life.
10 ways to show physical affection to your tween or teen son.
- Morning and Bedtime- Rub his back or push his hair back while he’s in bed; try to resist just standing in the doorway and shouting. Wake him up or wish him a goodnight’s sleep like you did when he was just your little guy.
- The “drive-by” – rest a hand on his shoulder or rub your hand across his back while he’s sitting and doing something else like eating or studying as you walk by him. You don’t have to say anything or linger, but that small touch will remind him that he is seen and loved.
- Hand greetings – the safest and most boring of all physical affection! Incorporate high fives, fist bumps, or a forearm tap into your greetings when he comes home from school or walks into a room. He is going to probably pretend like you are a huge nerd, but also he’ll probably secretly love it.
- Get competitive – If the time is available, challenge that big kid. You can play a card game, battle in a thumb war, or have a good old fashion arm wrestle. Be prepared to lose – remember this kid is grown now! – but maybe you’ll surprise both of you while you get in a few physical touches for the day.
- Let him teach you something – Not much makes a teen happier than being considered the expert on something. So ask your son to show you how to do something that he can do confidently. It could be a specific move in his video game, how to tie a fly fishing tie, how to doodle, how to solve his Rubik’s cube, or how to throw a football in a spiral. Not only is it a chance for you to be physically near each other, but it will boost his self-confidence in the process.
- Be a right-hand man – how comforting is it when you are in a rush or nervous and someone is there handing you the things you need without having to ask or be admonished for not being 100% prepared. Replicate that sense of comfort for your son when he’s in a hurry. You can put his homework in his hand or toss his keys across the room. It will be such a relief in that kind of moment for him to look you in the eye and to know, you have his back. (I know, mommas, we want to instill organization and preparedness in our kids – but just like us, they aren’t going to have it together every single time. Give some grace and be their right-hand man occasionally).
- Make room for him – Scooch over and pat the seat next to you to let him know, there is still room for him next to his momma. Maybe it’s in your living room on the couch, at the dinner table, on the bleachers, or under an umbrella in the rain. I often assume he’d rather not sit next to me, but you know what assuming does – because more times than not, my son sits right down next to me and usually ends up leaning into me.
- Work side by side – Ask him for help alongside you instead of handing out chores that he needs to accomplish on his own. He can help you cook, fix something, finish a big job, or volunteer somewhere.
- Recognize and be grateful for helpers – Twelve hugs a day for growth is a lot of hugs, let’s be serious. If all those hugs are coming from you, he’s probably going to feel smothered. Luckily for us, there are tons of helpers that can get those hugs in for our growing sons. Younger siblings and cousins are great huggers, hand-holders, and piggy back riders. Pets are awesome for snuggling, playing fetch, and being there when our sons need them. And yep – girlfriends! When I was a high school teacher, I witnessed my male students who got girlfriends would have a sudden behavior make-over (I was certain it was because they were finally getting their daily hug quota!)
- Just hug him – grab him and squeeze; bear hugs are always a good option.
So, remember that not so long ago, he was just a little child.
And in the grand scheme of growing up, he really is still only a child.
And under all that grumpy attitude or confident bravado,
under all those rolling eyes or “what’s up bruhs,”
under that hair that needs a cut or that favorite hoodie of his, that needs to be washed,
he is still your child.
And you are still his momma.