Why You Should Never Force Kids To Give Hugs And Kisses
LifeAspire Staff 6/1/2017
Many of us have first hand experience with young children who express themselves through actions even before they develop proper language skills. For example, kisses and hugs for when they are happy, and biting and hitting for when they are mad, are just some of the ways in which children use actions to display their emotions.
As parents and caretakers, our job is to encourage the positive behaviors and discourage the negative ones that could possibly hurt the child and those around them. While this line between good and bad seems pretty straightforward, experts are cautioning against too much intervention even for the supposedly good acts, which can possibly lead to future problems with personal boundaries.
Case in point is a common scenario where the parent stubbornly forces a reluctant child to give a hug and/or kisses to a friend or a family member. What might be interpreted as teaching social behavior in politeness, in a way also ends up teaching a child to show physical affection when they don't want to.
The co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International, Irene van der Zande, specializes in teaching personal safety and violence prevention to children of all ages. In her eyes, this common and repeated pressure from parents asking kids to show physical emotions can be very dangerous:
"When we force children to submit to unwanted affection in order not to offend a relative or hurt a friend's feelings, we teach them that their bodies do not really belong to them because they have to push aside their own feelings about what feels right to them."
While this advice is important for any child, it becomes especially critical for those who are parenting young girls.
A popular Facebook group called A Mighty Girl which offers advice on how to raise confident girls believes that it is never too early to teach girls that they shouldn't ignore their own feelings about boundaries and physical affection. In one of its posts highlighting CNN's Katia Hetter, the captioned photo reads:
"I am 5. My body is my body. Don't force me to kiss or hug. I am learning about consent and your support on this will help me keep myself safe for the rest of my life."
Katia, who admits that her daughter often goes on what she calls "hugging strikes," and has since she was 3 or 4-years-old, handles the situation by simply requesting a hug but giving the child the final opt in or out:
"'I would like you to hug Grandma, but I won't make you do it,' I first told her three years ago ... There is no passive-aggressive, conditional, manipulative nonsense behind my statement. I mean what I say. She doesn't have to hug or kiss anyone just because I say so, not even me. I will not override my own child's currently strong instincts to back off from touching someone who she chooses not to touch."
Facebook/A Mighty Girl
Fiona Peacock who writes about parenting for Belly Belly, provides a simple yet very important reminder for parents of both girls and boys:
"We encourage our kids to kiss grandma so that they don't look rude, and so that grandma (or Uncle Jim, or whoever) doesn't get upset or offended ... But this isn't your child's responsibility. Grandma is old enough to take a little bit of rejection every now and again. She won't go home and cry into her pillow, but your child probably will get upset if forced into doing something he doesn't want to do."
So while refusing to hug Santa for the annual Christmas picture is easily thought of as funny and a right of passage, we often ignore similar feelings a child can have in everyday life. Logic is not a child's strongest suit, but as parents it is our responsibility to respect their decision while making an attempt to find out why they are feeling that way.
As parents, it often feels overwhelming to raise children who are well-rounded and well-versed to handle the exciting yet crazy world that we live in. But simply being mindful of their feelings and respecting their decisions especially when it comes to physical affection can have a long term impact on their adult lives.