I don’t want a hug (the importance of respecting boundaries)

James loved to give hugs. And not just to his mom and dad, but everyone he knew and met. Of course, he didn’t remember his Aunt Gertrude. He was only four years old after all, but that didn’t stop him from giving her a big hug the second she walked through the front door, smiling, arms outstretched. He loved to hug people when saying hello and then again when they had to say goodbye.

His mom had taught him that hugs were how you showed people your love, and there wasn’t a person James had yet met that he didn’t immediately love.

He was so excited to start school because school meant friends and friends meant even more people that he could get to know and love. He couldn’t wait!

On his very first day of school, he hugged his mom goodbye and then ran to hug his new teacher and say hello. She smiled as wide as his mom always did when he came to give her a hug and then told him to leave his backpack in front of the door and go play with the rest of the kids before the bell rang.

He couldn’t get his backpack off fast enough and was soon swinging from the monkey bars like a regular beast of the jungle.

He couldn’t wait to start making new friends and immediately walked over a girl who was waiting for her turn on the slide.

“Hi, my name’s James,” he said smiling ear to ear.

She looked at him tentatively. “Hi.”

James was confused that she hadn’t also said her name. He didn’t know much, but he knew that people usually told them their names when he said his. But he didn’t see why this should stop them from being friends, so he opened his arms and started to give her a hug.

Only, when he went to close his arms around her, she wasn’t there. Instead of hugging his new friend, he was hugging the air where she had just been standing.

She looked at him from the step she had taken back when he started to hug her.

“I don’t want a hug,” she told him and moved forward to go down the slide.

Heartbroken, James ran off in tears.  He’d never met anyone who DIDN’T want to hug him.

When the teacher came over to ask him what was wrong, she looked down on him with a bemused smile on her face.

“James,” she said kindly. “You have to ASK people if you can hug them. Some people don’t like hugs.”

“They don’t?” he asked utterly stricken by this new piece of information. The school bell hadn’t even rung and he was already learning things that were changing everything he’d ever known.

“No, not always. So, you’ve got to ask the other kids before you hug them, Ok?”

He wasn’t sure he liked this new world, but he agreed to ask people before hugging them.

As the days went on and he made new friends, all of the other kids said that he could hug them when he asked. Everyone except the girl whose name he now knew was Sarah.

Sarah didn’t let anyone hug her. She had friends and they talked, but they never hugged, and this made James sad. He couldn’t help but feel bad for her that she went through her whole day without any hugs. And she did it every day too!

So, James never gave up on her. Every day he’d walk up to Sarah on the playground and ask if he could hug her.

But every day, her response was always the same: “I don’t want a hug.”

Eventually, he realized he was going to need help if he ever wanted to figure out how to get Sarah to let him hug her. So, one day after school he went to his dad and told him about the girl who never wanted a hug.

He was certain his dad would know what to do and was relieved when he looked down at a James with a small chuckle on his lips.

“Son, if she doesn’t want a hug, you need to stop asking her if you can hug her.”

“What?!” James had not been expecting his dad to give up so easily. Hugs were important. They were how you showed people you cared about them. How else was he supposed to show Sarah he cared about her if he couldn’t hug her?

“Why don’t you ask her if you can give her a high-five instead? Or shake her hand? Not everyone wants a hug, and that’s ok. You’ve gotta respect that buddy.”

James still didn’t like this idea very much, but at least his dad had finally given him some advice on something he could do.

The next day at school he walked right up to Sarah and, instead of asking her for a hug, said, “Can I give you a high-five?”

Sarah’s face broke out into a smile. “Sure!” she said, putting her hand up in the air with the palm facing outward. James smacked it with his and then ran off to go play on the monkey bars.

Every day from then on, James always gave Sarah a high-five instead of a hug. And it no longer even really bothered him. Even though it wasn’t a hug, he knew that it still showed her how much he cared.