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PrimarySecondaryHealth & Wellbeing

Mental health and wellbeing – All teachers need some hygge in our lives

The Danish word to describe feelings of cosiness and contentment sums up how we can increase wellbeing – and it can start with a hug, says Ginny Bootman…

Ginny Bootman
by Ginny Bootman
Teaching about feelings KS1 plan
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PrimaryHealth & Wellbeing

As a class teacher, I find it really interesting to witness the power of the hug towards other adults in my school. I wasn’t born a hugger; hugging came to me in later life. I don’t quite know why or how but now I am known as the school hugger.

I can compartmentalise people into different hugging ‘zones’. We have the non-hugger – ‘please don’t hug me, I will not hug you back or thank you for a hug’.

The reticent hugger – ‘I would like a hug but will not initiate but would like a hug’.

And finally the ‘self-confessed huggers’ – these people hug, well, just because hugging exists.

It should go without saying that you mustn’t hug someone unless you’re absolutely sure they’re OK with it. In my school, if I am in need, I know the people who will give me the hug that I so desperately need.

The duration of a hug is also a very important aspect of any hug. If in doubt, hug for less time rather than more. You don’t want to outstay your welcome and you never want to be ejected from a hug – that is just embarrassing!

The best hugger in my school is the school dog. He has an amazing capacity to sniff out people who need a hug. Interestingly, seeming non-huggers become huggers where Monty the dog is concerned.

I have seen him seek out staff who we weren’t aware they were having a difficult day. He has the ability to calm those around him because of his never-ending kindness and non-judgemental outlook on life.

His photo sits pride of place among the other staff photos – in fact, his is largest. One of the children asked the other day if Monty was the headteacher? Out of the mouths of babes…

My personal approach to hugging is very ‘scientific’ (in the broadest sense of the word). First, to hug or not to hug, that is the question. My view is not to initiate a unless you are committed to the hug. It is better not to have hugged than to do an uncomfortable hug.

I have only had one awkward hug moment. It was years ago and someone I didn’t know very well tried to initiate a hug which I did not want to reciprocate so I politely recoiled, and then they high-fived me. All very awkward and a lesson was learned.

It’s a bit like putting a kiss on a text message. Once you have put a kiss on a message there is an expectation to always put a kiss. Recently, I bought a chair off the internet and the buyer was sending me message replies with a kiss at the end. No, no, no!

In the same vein I once had a headteacher who I messaged without signing off with a kiss.

One day, for some reason, she saw a message I had sent to another member of staff that included a kiss. She then went through every message I had sent her checking for any sign of a kiss on any message, but alas none were to be found. Suffice to say from that day onwards, I put a kiss on every message I sent her!

‘Hygge’ (pronounced ‘hyoo-guh’) is a Danish word acknowledging a feeling or moment that gives a mood of cosiness and comfortable conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment.

Taken from the excellent The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking

I, for one, love to snuggle under a soft blanket because it gives me a feeling of comfort.

Similarly, as a child, my favourite toy was a dog with beautiful soft fur. By the end of this toy’s life, all that was left was a piece of fabric that I carried around with me as a comforter.

I like to think of this as hygge, and I think that we can all live by this, whether it is through the act of an actual hug or by making our environment cosy. We all need and find comfort in different ways. It is a case of finding what suits us an individuals and respecting the views of others.

The word hygge typifies it so well. We can all find wellness and contentment in different ways. Let’s embrace these different ways and appreciate how others find this same comfort. Long live the hygge.

Ginny Bootman is a speaker on the subject of looked-after children and the role of empathy in the classroom. She is a SENCo at Evolve Church Academy, Northamptonshire. Follow her on Twitter at @sencogirl.

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