sex

Are teachers stepping over the line when it comes to our kids?

Please keep your

hands off my child.

It’s the sentiment most parents expressed to me when I asked them this question.

“Are you comfortable with teachers touching your child?” Most said things like, “No way.” “Why would they?” “Not in this day and age.” “They’d better not.”

If you’d asked me this question just five weeks ago, I would have agreed. I would have firmly stated that teachers have no business touching my children, for any reason. They are teachers, not parents. Touching them and hugging them is my job

.

Only under the most extreme circumstances – like when they fall over and scrape their knees – would I have been happy for them to touch the kids to, you know, put on a band aid.

However the case of a teacher suspended for hugging a special

needs child has really got me thinking.

Leo Bennett-Cauchon, a special needs teacher of 16 years in California in the US, is on paid leave pending an investigation after he hugged eight-year-old autistic student Giovanni Anaya and allowed the boy to sit on his lap. “He asked to sit on my lap,” Bennett-Cauchon told US Woman’s DayHe then goes on to explain that the boy asked for a kiss, so he gave him one on the cheek.

He told USA Today, “This is a child who needs physical contact.”

Sometimes they just need affection.

The boy's mother Sharon Anaya supports the teacher's actions, explaining that her son needs physical contact upon request or he shuts down. However despite her support, the investigation continues

, with an official from the school district in question saying they are checking for a pattern of "repeated acts of inappropriate behaviour".

I asked a former special needs teacher for her opinion:

When I worked with children who were high on the autism spectrum, or children with down syndrome, they always wanted to hug you and hold your hand. I would explain to them that they needed to play

with the other children, or sometimes I would hold their hand - in fact I would often hold their hand. I would never hug them but sometimes it was hard, they would hug my leg or they would grab on to me and I couldn't just push them off.

But special needs kids aren't the only children who sometimes crave physical affection from teachers at school. My daughter Caterina, just a few short weeks ago, started Kindergarten and physical contact was absolutely crucial for pulling her off me as she hysterically clung to my neck, crying and begging for me to stay. The hysteria lessened eventually however she still needed her teacher to take her hand to lead her away.

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And I regularly see the Kindergarten teachers

doing playground duty, holding children's hands. It's beautiful.

Teacher's often hold children's hands.

Special needs kids, very young kids, need it. Then they get older and they don't. The Department of Education (DEC) has a set of guidelines for teachers to follow when it comes to physical contact and they state the following:

  • Physically contact students in a way that makes them comfortable, e.g., shaking hands, a congratulatory pat on the back, or with very young students by gently guiding them or holding their hand for reassurance or encouragement;
  • When students, particularly very young children, are hurt and seek comfort, it is appropriate to provide reassurance by putting an arm around them;
  • Be alert to cues from students about how comfortable they are in your proximity and respect individual needs for personal space. If teachers physically contact students in class demonstrations, such as PE or drama lessons, explain the activity involved and what you will do.

I asked a former primary teacher how this works in practice on the playground and in the classroom. She said:

When teaching younger grades, hand holding and hugging is practically unavoidable. Children seek comfort when they are hurt or upset and the best way to be consoled is to reach out for affection. They will also try to hug you to show that they like you. I personally didn't feel comfortable with it. I would allow children to hug me, but never hug back. When children tried to hold my hand, I wouldn’t wrap mine around their’s but keep my hand quite straight, to encourage them to let go.

It's a very delicate area, one requiring teachers to exercise sound judgement. How are teachers, parents and students meant to navigate their way through what is a very murky area? Even I - a parent of three children - have a unique set of ideas for when, where, who and how I want my children to be touched by teachers. but I've never communicated it. And my ideas would be different from other parents expectations.

Suspended teacher Leo Bennett-Cauchon is pushing for the investigation to be completed so he can return to teaching.

I'd love to know what you think. Is it ever appropriate for teachers to have physical contact with students? Has an issue ever arisen for you?

Want more? Try:

They can't say it to your face, but this is what your child's teacher really wants to say to you.

"It's every school mum's worst fear. And I'm okay with it."

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