I remember growing up that it was polite and, I was told, important to greet relatives with hugs and kisses. Almost always, those types of greetings were initiated by adults with parents looming over to make sure I reciprocated. To deny grandma her hug was cruel and definitely not what a “good girl” did. Even if I felt uncomfortable, it was important to put in the work to show gratitude and love to relatives. Ick.
Fast forward 30 years and I am a mom. I remember the first few months after my kids were born that the idea of letting anyone (other than my husband) hold my babies was terrifying. I’ll never forget the day an extended family member literally picked up one of the babies and walked out the front door. Every single nerve ending in my body shot on end. It became a fight or flight situation. And I was not even the baby being held. As my children grew, they also made it very clear that they did not want to be held by anyone except their parent and sometimes only one of us and not the other!
It has always been our family’s policy– and I advise other parents– to NEVER force a child to be held, hug, kiss, or otherwise be affectionate with anyone unless they WANT to. Never, ever, ever. And that includes even us, the parents. If politeness is a family value, that can be demonstrated by other forms acknowledgement and as kids get older we can decide how important it is to tackle manners.
But no person should be forced to have physical contact with anyone they don’t want to. And beside that, there are lots of good reasons from a sexual abuse-prevention approach to never force your children to have physical contact against their will.
Everydayfeminism.com recently addressed 7 of those reasons in its article, Your Child Should Never Be Forced To Hug Anyone (Yes, Even A Relative)- Here Are 7 Reasons Why
1. It teaches your child that they don’t have control over their own bodies
2. It implies that you (or adults in general) have the right to touch the child how they want, when they want
3. It tells them relatives can’t be abusers
4. It disregards your child’s comfort zone
5. It risks dismantling their healthy sense of stranger danger
6. It ignores any important subtle cues your child is trying to tell you
7. It sends the message that hugging (or physical contact in general) is the only way to show affection or appreciation for another person
At the end of this parenting experience, we all want our children to grow up with a healthy sense of self, feeling safe, and actually being safe. Not making kids show affection when they don’t want to is one way toward that end.