Distance Hugs: My Self-Reg Stumbling Block

Distance Hugs: My Self-Reg Stumbling Block

School’s over. And with distance learning for the past three months, and “school” operating through a computer or tablet screen since the end of March, these words seem to take on a very different meaning. My teaching partner, Paula, and I only entered the school building a couple of times since March 13th. We found out last week, that we had some days available to go into the classroom, pack up belongings, and organize the classroom for whatever school environment next year might bring. On Monday, while we were there, a mom came by with her children to drop off a present. Think porch drop-off but in a kindergarten pen instead. 

Paula and I were initially nervous heading outside to see the family. How could we avoid a hug goodbye? How could our child? It was amazing to see what happened though. After mom put down the presents, she told her kids to step back so that we could get them, and they did. Then they suggested “air hugs.” Our amazing SK child, showed how to wrap his arms together in the air to pass a big hug off to both of us. I had a Care Bear moment. It’s almost like we’re beaming hugs across the sky to the people standing 6 feet away.

This experience had me thinking, as I wonder a lot about the future of hugs. As a kindergarten educator, hugs are often a big part of our day.

  • Kids use hugs to connect with others.
  • They greet us in the morning with a hug.
  • They look for a hug when they’re sad, scared, angry, tired, or hurt.
  • Hugs comfort many of our students, especially in that first month of school, when leaving home is one of the hardest things that they have to do.

Some of our children are three-years-old when they start kindergarten. Still toddlers. Competent and capable three-year-olds indeed, but ones that often crave that physical connection. For other children, it will have been over 5 months since they’ve last left home. Entered a school building. Looked to an educator or friend for support instead of to a parent. How do we comfort from a distance, and for some of our young learners, will an “air hug” hold as much value as an in-person hug? I learned from Stuart Shanker and Susan Hopkins about the value in that physical touch for some individuals. In the time of COVID, what might the absence of this connection mean from a Self-Reg perspective? What could be a possible “hug replacement?” Over the summer, I’m sure to be doing a lot of thinking about next year.

  • What might classrooms look like?
  • What might learning look like?
  • What changes might we need to consider?
  • How do we make the impossible, possible, and what’s needed to make this happen?

But on a small, but really important, scale, I’m also going to be thinking about hugs. A September without them in a room full of kindergarteners seems like our first big hurdle to overcome. Many things can be modified to exist six feet apart or on a screen, but is a hug one of them?


Aviva Dunsiger is the Co-Reg Community Moderator and completed the Foundations 1 Certification Program. She has taught everything from Kindergarten to Grade 6 and enjoys blogging about her teaching and learning experiences. She blogs professionally on her blog, Living Avivaloca. Aviva is excited to contribute a monthly post on The MEHRIT Centre Blog.


By | 2020-06-30T12:10:30+00:00 June 26th, 2020|


  1. Kristi Keery Bishop June 30, 2020 at 12:01 pm - Reply

    Hi Aviva, this is one of the things I’m wondering about too. One of the things I’ll be looking for in the public health parameters is whether students will be able to bring a comfort item from home – like a stuffed animal. If they can, maybe this will help a bit. Not at all a substitute for human touch and connection but maybe at least one strategy we can use to try to help comfort. I can see asking a child to give their bear a hug and you’ll feel it too be something that could provide some reassurance for a child. Now, fingers crossed that we will be able to have student personal comfort items.
    I find we are also using more direct verbal messages of reassurance or kindness when we might have in the past used a squeeze of an arm or a hug. Helping young students hear verbal “hugs” and be comforted by them may be a big piece of our collective learning next year.
    Verbal hugs and teddy bears – that’s all I’ve got right now but I’ll keep looking out for those other innovative solutions educators will come up with. And they will!

    • Aviva Dunsiger June 30, 2020 at 12:41 pm - Reply

      Thanks for sharing your ideas, Kristi! I have used some stuffed animals in the past as a comfort toy, although sometimes too many stuffed animals at school can also become dysregulating (it’s almost like they’re too soft). There are also the concerns that come around lice, but maybe this is a small concern compared to social distancing. I do like your thinking around verbal hugs. I’m trying to think about what these words might sound like, and how we can still use some soft, whisper voices, even from a distance.

      The only other thing that I wonder is will children also have physical distancing requirements from other children? If not, could students — especially in these early years — offer their friends comfort through a hug or gentle back rub? I have seen many of our students doing this before (and even asking other kids if they need this) after seeing us offer them this support. Another way for some student leadership perhaps, if we cannot be the ones to offer this support in this way.

      I know that I’ll be thinking more about options this summer. I’m not a parent, but I cannot imagine a mom or dad leaving a crying child at school when an educator cannot connect in the same way with that child to help comfort him/her and reduce the tears. I’m hoping others will share their creative ideas, so that we can figure out a “distance hug” option. After 5+ months away from school, and possibly a very different environment for kids and educators to return to, I think that these hugs might be needed by many.


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