It’s normalized to push kids to hug adults, including their aunts, uncles, and grandparents, but is it okay to do so? According to a variety of experts, the answer is no, and they have a pretty good explanation for why.
When a child is given a command by an adult, it is implied if they don’t comply, there will be consequences. While this is normal for teaching them discipline and responsibility, it sends the wrong message when you are forcing them to show affection.
The message you are sending when you say, “Give them hugs and kisses,” is that there will be negative consequences unless they ignore their own feelings. Basically, as VeryWell Family notes, what you are saying is, “I don’t care if you’re comfortable with it or not, show affection anyway.”
It may not seem that serious to you at the time, but ultimately, what experts say this could lead to is a bad situation if they were put in a situation with a predator. When the message you teach a child is their body is not their own, and that they do not get to assert boundaries over their own body, they are far more likely to fall prey to a predator.
And it’s never a good idea to tell a child that their boundaries are wrong. Airial Clark, MA, a sexuality educator, and community organizer explains “It’s never too early for kids to practice bodily autonomy.”
She also adds, “There are many things being taught to a child when their bodily autonomy isn’t taken into consideration. One message that gets internalized is ‘your body is more important than your self.’ As in, the affection or comfort your body gives matters more than how you feel about giving [it].”
While you may feel torn as a parent, because you don’t want your child’s grandmother or cousin to be upset, their feelings are going to be okay. When it comes down to it, trying to mitigate the hurt feelings of an adult isn’t an excuse to run over the autonomy of your child.
In most cases, adults are going to understand, and if they don’t, it’s okay, to be frank with them, says Dr. Deborah Gilboa. Simply explain that you are teaching your child autonomy, and whatever you do, do not make your child feel any shame for not wanting to be hugged or kissed. Additionally, Michele Borba, another expert, told Today via email that it’s important to dig deeper if you notice your child seems extremely uncomfortable around a certain person.
“Dig deeper to find out why your child feels uncomfortable.” she says.
Another suggestion Gilboa adds is to give a fist-bump or high-five when they don’t want to give hugs or kisses.