The Five Steps

Step 5: The Bear Hug.

Stand behind your child and wrap your arms over her shoulders and across her chest. Hold her arms with your hands if you are concerned about her striking out. Squat down to her level and speak gently in her ear that you are helping her stop herself and that you will let her go when she can stop herself. Gentle pressure on her shoulders can keep her from kicking or attempting to run from you. This is not a punishment. It is providing outside boundaries for a child who lacks internal boundaries.

There are actually a few times when it’s appropriate.

First, it’s a great connecting tool when you’re not even using the other steps. Especially for children who love touch and contact. I often sweep into a room, scoop a child up into a bear hug, squeeze and cuddle and then move on. The thing about the positioning of the bear hug is that mom is non-threatening–behind, at child’s level, and able to speak calmly and quietly into child’s ear. The hug provides a sense of security to most children. I actually encourage doing this often so that when it’s done as the 5th step the child is comfortable with it and comforted BY it.

Second, it is a great tool for providing external boundaries when a child’s internal boundaries have broken down. Because the 4th step is *helping* that is where most interactions should end–parent helps child be successful and not cooperating is NOT an option. But if the child melts down or becomes violent then it’s important to keep them, yourself, and others safe and holding them not only does that but, with most children, helps them calm down. Because children push the boundaries when they don’t feel safe, providing kind and firm boundaries in a tangible way he’s them feel safe and calm down.

If a child is averse to the Bear Hug then I would only use it if the child was truly being violent and needed to be kept safe. In that case I’m not particularly concerned about them not liking it because safety comes first. Otherwise, if they are just *melting down* then I find a safe place for them to have their big feelings and I wait nearby.

During the Bear Hug I speak calmly into the child’s ears saying things that let them know I will release them as soon as they have their own self control, that I am bigger than their big feelings, that they are safe and I will keep them safe, that I hear them being very upset–reflecting, validating and affirming them while instructing them in what they need to do (get their self control back).

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  1. Nicole Taylor says:

    Excellent! I’ve been looking for various ways to discipline my daughter without demeaning or devaluing her experience or who she is. I will try these approaches right away.

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