Good Touch Or Bad Touch?: Seven Tips for Touching Etiquette

As a child, I hated being swooped up in one or another relatives’ arms and hugged. They may have loved me, but I hated their unwanted hugs.hugs

At the same time I love  hugs and hugging. But it is tricky.

Because I worked as a mental health professional with children, I was written up once for hugging a child. She was five, we had worked together for several weeks and when she saw me at a support group my boss was attending she rushed up to me gave me a big hug and clung to me for a few moments. My boss frowned and wrote me a memo saying it was against agency rules to have physical contact with patients.

Did I stopping hugging the kids or grown ups who came at me with open arms. No. I only obey reasonable rules applied reasonable.

The “No touch” rule for professional has its merits.  However, rejecting someone who wants a hug is hurtful  and good therapy seeks to help not damage.  What to do? Here are some tips.

Emotional Fitness Tips

Tip one: separate the good hugs and touches from the bad. Welcome the one, reject the other.

Tip two: All unwanted touches are bad touches. 

Normally, I want hugs from David. But if I am angry I do not. He has had to learn that lesson and has. I signal the anger is over by asking for a hug.

Tip three: Strengthen  your ability to decode touches and hugs properly.

Tip Four:  Be aware of sexual feelings hugs and other touches create in you and others. This is related to tip three.

Tip Five: Be aware of the sexual feelings behind someone who touches you. Also related to Tip Three. 

One of my foster children stiffened when I tried to hug her. A clear sign, she did not want my hugs. I noted her response and apologized.  She explained she had been sexually abused and it started with okay hugs.

As a teenager I no longer wanted to be hugged by my father. Common response to the growing awareness of sexual feelings.  If you are a parent, you know that sooner o later the hugs and kisses your child once delighted with turn a bit sour.

When that happened to me, I communicated my new attitude toward hugs by meeting my father’s attempt to hug with the side ways hug. In time he got the message.

Understand: my father did not think of our hugs as sexual. They were not, but felt that way to me.

Al least six or seven  our foster children obviously were interested in sexually touching us. Examples: One girl tried to unzip David’s fly.  One boy tried to hug me too tight and too long, and I could feel his penis hardening.

Tip six: Handling inappropriate or unwanted touches with finesse. Act but do not over-react. 

When the girl tried to unzip David’s fly he called loudly for me. The girl fled.  She was told to discuss the incident with her probation officer and that we would report it, it was an assault.  With the boy I pushed him away and said “Those kind of hugs are for grownups who want to be hugged that way.” He was also told to discuss this with the professionals involved in his care.

Then there was the medial intern I met in an empty hall when I was young,  apparently attractive, and working in a hospital. He spread his arms and came toward me obviously intent on give me a bear hug. I looked as if I was going to accept, but at the last-minute ducked under his arms and said, “Thank you but no thank you.”  He never bother me again.

On a slightly different note, I always responded  to whistles and cat calls with a smile, a wave, and a little curtsy and got some laughs. I think the feminist movement has made a bit too much of those. Men working at a construction site are not going to leap over the fence and rape you.  They are bored and wanting some distraction. You can take the whistles as a compliment or an assault. Seeing them as assaults is over-reacting.

Now as a subway rider, I got groped and eventually found that either stomping  on the not-gentleman’s  or saying loudly “Keep your hands to yourself” worked. I didn’t need to try the knee in the groin, but assume that might convey the desired message.

Tip Seven is for Parents: Set your child free to reject hugs. Never say “Give Aunt Rosie a hug or a kiss.”  I cringe when I hear parents saying that. My tactic “Only if s/he wants; otherwise a hand shake or “Slap me five will do.”

Don’t like this tip? Remember most sexual abuse directed toward a child comes from relatives or family friends.


Sharing is caring; so is liking, or commenting. All three help keep me going.

Thank you and work at staying strong until next time,. I work hard to do the same as life is often difficult, but exercises like this one lets me find the good.


This post was inspired by this WordPress Daily Prompt

The Power of Touch: Textures are everywhere: The rough edges of a stone wall. The smooth innocence of a baby’s cheek. The sense of touch brings back memories for us. What texture is particularly evocative to you? Thanks for the prompt suggestion, Laura Thompson!


These links are for those not familiar with Emotional Intelligence or the idea of Emotional Fitness.

Easy Emotional Fitness Exercises (
The five components of Emotional Intelligence ( Intelligence (
An Emotional Fitness Program for Parents(

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