Spread your group evenly throughout a designated area.
Nominate a volunteer to be the initial tagger, ie they will soon start chasing others.
In an effort to avoid being tagged, an individual may choose to run very fast, or engage in a mutual hug with another person.
Two people may only embrace in a hug for three seconds, after which they must separate and return to the game.
The ‘tagger’ is not entitled to hover over hugging pairs.
When a tag is made, the roles reverse and the new ‘tagger’ resumes the chase.
Continue play for several minutes, or until your group’s energy starts to wane.
How To Play Narrative
Ask your group to spread themselves evenly throughout an area that has clearly marked boundaries.
On this occasion, rather than looking for a volunteer to become ‘It,’ assume this role yourself and explain that you’ve ‘got no friends.’ Note, this is just a little flourish I take on with the delivery of this tag, and it’s not important, just fun.
No prizes for guessing what’s next. On “GO” everyone scatters to the wind, with two methods of escape at their disposal. They may run faster than ‘It,’ but this doesn’t work for everyone.
Or, preferably, they can embrace another member of the group in a mutual hug, ie where both people choose or at least know they are being involved in a hug.
When two people are ‘hugging,’ they cannot be tagged. However, a hug is only safe for three seconds, after which, each of the hugees must detach, and rejoin the skirmish.
Note, the ‘It’ cannot hover around people in the midst of a hug waiting to tag them as soon as they detach. That’s called cheating, or “the fun is over here where we are.”
Let the game continue until everyone is pooped.
Practical Leadership Tips
Naturally, as this exercise involves a modicum of intimacy, consider the sensitivities of your group and your program’s sequence before introducing this tag. Placed too ‘early’ in your program, and there’ll be more running than hugging.
Asking ‘It’ to wear a hat or other accessory makes it easier to identify the ‘tagger’ at any point in time. As a further element of fun, I often choose a hopelessly-out-of-fashion floppy hat and suggest that my mother knitted it for me! This gives everyone a real reason to run away from ‘It’ now.
Remind your group that hugs must be mutual in order to be effective. An attempt to grab someone as they are pulling away is not a hug.
Observe how long one person remains as the ‘tagger.’ If it’s longer than a minute, ask for a volunteer to swap roles to give the first person a break.
You could integrate Hug Tag as part of a well-designed SEL program to promote and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse people.
Specifically, this activity offers ample opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Linking Feelings, Values & Thoughts
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
The simple expression of a hug can be a powerful metaphor for any conversation related to the development of a group’s cultural norms. Generally speaking, a group that is reluctant to offer or be a part of a hug may reflect poorly on the levels of trust, empathy and positive relationships that exist among its members.
To this end, you could present Hug Tag as an active barometer of the presence and gradual development of these competencies over time. For example, you could play the game at the start of your program and again towards the end to assess the varying levels of social engagement of your group.
Also, you can learn a lot from a hug, not to mention, its absence. While in the context of this game a mutual hug may be viewed purely as a device to avoid being tagged, the two people involved must still want to engage with a hug to make it happen. You could play this game to help your group explore key emotional intelligence competencies such as respect for others, empathy and appreciating diversity.
Hug Tag Multiples: Particularly for large groups, introduce two or more ‘taggers’ to increase the energy and interaction of the game.
Prescribed Huggers: Explain that a ‘safe’ hug can only occur between two parties of the same or different (depending on your goals) teams, genders, nationalities, family, etc. This parameter may open the possibility of an interesting conversation when the game is finished, eg what it was like to seek safety in someone with whom you would not ordinarily associate?
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Useful Framing Ideas
One of the attributes of being human that distinguishes us from most of the animal kingdom is our need to be touched. The importance of touch is developed and nurtured from the time we are a baby, and it nourishes us all our lives. Well, in this next activity, it will be the very thing that will help you to survive…
In times of trouble, it’s nice to know that we can turn to friends and family to help us out. Apply this strategy to this next game, and you’ll get along very well…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this fun, yet intimate tag game:
What was it like to seek refuge in the arms of another person?
What decisions did you make directly prior to engaging in a hug? Was it spontaneous, planned, begrudged, etc?
When was the last time you asked for someone’s help? Was this difficult to do?
The inspiration for Hug Tag, and many more simple, yet powerful tag games, was sourced from the following publication: