Snuggling for Trust and Safety

Snuggle.  Isn’t that a terrific word?  Doesn’t it bring warmth to your inner fiber and joy to your memories?

Let yourself roam through your internal photo albums, and retrieve some favorite pictures of you snuggling.  With your sibling, with your best friend, with your Grandma, with your spouse, with your baby.  Nice, huh?

So what is going on when someone (and at times we all have experienced this) doesn’t want to snuggle?  If it is such a great comfort, why do we humans sometimes refuse this opportunity to be hugged with love?

Okay, who wants to be snuggled when they’re angry?  Or in a hurry?  Or need to be the one in control?  Or it just feels like the wrong place?  So those old photos are lingering in our memory albums, also, but I would guess not as frequent or as prominent as our warm, mushy snuggles.

Now to our children.  Up until children reach that developmental age of not wanting to be seen with a parent–they usually are quite welcoming of snuggles.  In a parent’s bed, on the sofa, in strange, new places, at weary times . . . you get the picture/s.

Is it okay to snuggle a child who doesn’t want to be snuggled?  Sure.  Remember, there are times that snuggling just isn’t for the place or time; however, there are times when snuggling can help to build safety and trust with a child.

Here are some of those times:

  • A child who is lying to his/her parent’s face.  (Sometimes called “crazy lying” because the lie is so outrageous AND the child refuses to accept any responsibility for telling the truth.)
  • A child who is physically exhausted and is seemingly inconsolable.
  • A child who is frightened and needs soothing.
  • A child who is angry and refuses to follow parental directives.
  • A child who is anxious and needs to be comforted.

So it’s easy to get a picture of snuggling with a child to soothe them, but quite different with the child who is struggling and determined that the control will remain with the child.  This picture isn’t so easy to accept.

So here is Part II of DIY Steps for Creating Compliant Children–Part I

FIRST :Teach your child early about snuggling and the closeness that you expect for “closure” to each snuggle time.  Infants and toddlers who are snuggled, I believe, have a greater ability to trust and feel safe.

Trust and Safety are the two developmental foundation blocks that anchor the child’s entire life. 

NOW:  For the child who is out-of-control and potentially threatening the safety of others/self/environment, here is a snapshot of how to go about providing this YOUNG child with a growing sense of trust and safety.

Kicking legs, scratching fingers, biting and head butting can all accompany the out-of-control child.  It is not a nice picture.  And at first, when a parent intercedes to provide safety and be in control it can feel downright awful.

This is where the parent (hopefully more than one parent) can provide the child with the knowledge that the parent is in charge, that the environment is safe and that all will end on a good note, with bonding feelings and acceptance. Sometimes you can do this with a “snuggle hold” like in this photo.

Snuggle Hold using Baby Ring Sling

If you are unable to snuggle with your child as in above photo, other parents have sat on a sofa or reclining chair.

Legs need to be contained, depending upon the size of the child, they can be held with one hand or the parent can sit and encase the child’s legs between their own legs; the arms are to be kept from hitting and scratching, which again can be held by one hand, if the parent is sitting on a sofa, with the child snuggled so that one side of the child’s body is against the sofa.  If head butting is a an issue, and the child won’t stop, then a second adult may be needed if the one snuggling parent can’t contain the child’s head.

During all this squirming and physically straining time, the parent offers few words.  Something like, “Everyone needs to be safe.”   Or:  “We’re going to quiet down together.”  As the child begins to calm or at least stop struggling, the snuggling parent can say something like, “Your shoulders look angry.”  Or: “Being safe with each other is very important in this family.”  Or. Simply, “I love you.”  AGAIN:  NOT A LOT of WORDS.  Continue to be as GENTLE as you can and still retain control.

When the child has calmed, ask the child for eye contact.  Children who have difficulties making eye contact or who give eye contact, but it is an angry glare or a “gamey” stare are still angry/untrusting/want control/refuse to accept your authority.  So without a lot of words, just cuddle and snuggle.  It may take some time.  The BIG thing is:  DON’T STOP!  If you stop too soon, all you have done is to teach your child to out wait you, and confirms for the child that he/she is actually in control.  So WAIT.  When your child is able to make eye contact,  smile, snuggle, droop their head on your shoulder, answer your questions politely, then you know you have made progress in providing your child with the gift of safety and trust in his /her parent. (Some parents give their child a treat upon emerging from a snuggle session.  Shared treats may be okay, but remain  leery of blending “treats” with “control.”)

If you have a child that engages in unsafe behavior towards you or siblings or others, please get professional help.  This is not a typical part of childhood.  This is a child, for whatever reason, who is feeling the need to be the one in control of his/her environment, with only his/her rules to follow.

If you have questions about what I have written, please let me know.  I do want parents to have this information, but I am also concerned that parents know when to ask for professional help and guidance.

As always be gentle with yourself and your children.


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2 Responses to Snuggling for Trust and Safety

  1. I really enjoy your blog. Do you think this approach will work with my 7 year old? I typically do this when she is crying or overly tired and it works but I have never tried it during her “fits.” I located some affordable counseling for us and start that at the end of the month. So far no more tantrums at school either. Thanks for the advice – keep up the good work!

    • dearfriends says:

      Hello Reclaiming,
      So glad you found counseling. My hope is that the counseling will be “play therapy” for your daughter; Filial therapy for both of you AND some 1:1 time with a therapist for parenting sharing/tips.
      After some thought to your question as to “will this approach work with my 7 year old”–I think another post is needed. In short, “yes” is the answer, And please read the whole post on “Understanding “Fits” and Tantrums” before you engage in a possible single parent snuggle-struggle with your 7 year old. Thank you for taking such great positive steps for your daughter and yourself—barb

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