Some parents are hesitant about using the Bear Hug (the fifth step of the Five Steps) because they perceive it to be a form of restraining a child. It is, but not in the classic sense of a restraint. It is specifically designed to be a hold that is not able to damage a child and the position of the parent in relation to the child is that of a non-threatening boundary. Rather than being over the child and in their face the Bear Hug puts the parent behind the child, at their level, and speaking gently in their ear. If you have ever held your child in your lap and told stories you have used a loose version of a Bear Hug. Some children don’t like to be held, this is true. Some children have sensory issues and others resist for their own reasons. Unless a child is truly being violent I do not believe that a Bear Hug is a necessary thing. If a child is being violent then I do not hesitate to use the Bear Hug and I reassure them that I will let them go as soon as they can stop themselves from hitting/kicking/hurting/etc. It is an external boundary for when internal boundaries are failing the child.
One way that I help my children to associate the Bear Hug with safety, security and love is to use it during calm times to be a tight loving hug. I might stoop behind my child and wrap them in a Bear Hug and whisper how much I love them or am enjoying whatever they are doing. I use some descriptive praise. “You are playing with all of your blocks and building such big towers.” “You are mothering your baby with such love. You will be a wonderful mother someday.” “You are so busy! I just needed a hug and to tell you I love you.” The things I whisper in their ears when using the Bear Hug for a meltdown are full of the same love only they have boundaries added to help the child know what is expected of them when they are feeling this way.
You are angry. You really want to hit me. Hitting hurts and I will not let you hit me. When you’re ready to not hit me I’d love to comfort you
(in our home this means the child is hugging me back
and I pat their back while cradle holding them).
Let me know when you’re ready. You are so upset. You may be upset; you may not hit me. Can you
think of a way to get your upset out without hurting?
I’m always willing to offer ideas but with a verbal child it’s great to help them problem solve even when they are upset. This is a great step towards responding appropriately first.