To hug or not to hug, that is the question
Affection is a natural part of life. From the moment we are born, we are held and touched. Babies need the physical closeness of their parents in order to feel secure and for their emotional and psychological development. The more love and affection we get as children, the more likely we are to develop into confident, empathetic adults with a healthy self-esteem.
As we develop and grow into our own personalities, so our personal taste for affection changes. Some people are 'huggers’, hugging at every opportunity; some people hug on certain occasions, while others avoid hugging at all. There are those of us who are 'touchy-feely’. These people will touch others during conversation to indicate solidarity and understanding. This may vary from a light touch on the arm or leg to full hand-holding. Other people feel uncomfortable with light touching and will positively flinch at having their hands held.
Affection varies from culture to culture. In the West two female friends would not walk down the street holding hands, linking arms, yes, but here hand-holding between adults is a gesture of romantic feeling. However, when I lived in Korea my Korean female friends would walk hand-in-hand with me. At first, I found this very uncomfortable, but I persevered with it out of respect and ultimately became comfortable with this gesture of friendship.
Affection between grandchildren and their grandparents is one of the most delightful, affirming experiences. There are few more wonderful things than being enfolded in the loving, secure arms of Grandma or Grandpa. Even as adults we love hugging our grandparents, especially as they become older and frailer. We are acutely aware of the passage of time and the fragility of life when we see our grandparents.
When we become carers and begin to care for elderly, frail people in their homes, as caring individuals we are drawn to their perceived vulnerability and instinctively we may want to reach out and hold their hands or embrace them. However, I believe that we need to tread with great caution and respect in this area. This is one of those situations where we really need to be observant and read the client. (I have written a blog post on this topic which you may find helpful, ‘One approach does not fit all - reading your client’).
I would not advocate holding a client's hand on the first introduction. When I meet clients for the first time, I am guided by them. If the client holds out her hand I shake it. If she leans in for a kiss on the cheek, I do the same. I have seen a client wince when a new carer arrived and very sweetly knelt next to her, taking her hand and talking kindly to her. I knew the client well, and I knew she did not like physical affection or 'sweetness’. The carer was being kind and loving, but in this case, with this client, it was the wrong approach to take. Another lovely carer had hugged this client often during her assignment. The client, being a polite, gracious lady had tolerated it. However, she told me that she did not want the carer to come back because she could not stand the hugging.
There is nothing wrong with hugging a client or holding her or his hand, but there is a time and a place for everything. The observant carer will know when to use physical affection, how much to use and for how long. We need always to remember that these people we care for and support in their homes are not our dear grannies and grampies whom we are visiting for a few days. These are clients who are paying our employer for our professional services. We must be guided at all times by their needs, their likes and dislikes and to respect that while providing loving, kind and caring support.
Laetitia Hannan is one of our very own Professional Carers who has worked with The Good Care Group as a Relief Carer on the Senior Care Team for over 3 years. Laetitia strongly believes in providing an outstanding service to the clients she cares for and provides a fascinating insight into the role of a carer. We hope that you enjoyed this blog as much as we did and find it both interesting and useful. If you have any comments or questions please feel free to leave below!