Nov 13 / Simcha

Your Child Owes No One a Hug

A thought I want to share as the holidays approach: Your child owes no one a hug.  

Insisting a child kiss or hug a relative or family friend Hello or Goodbye when s/he does want to, invalidates your child’s feelings by suggesting that external pressures (and Aunty’s feelings) are more important than his/hers.  And it teaches them that consent can be manipulated, by cajoling or worse.

In addition, coercing children to give hugs or kisses sends the very problematic message that “you have to say Yes to be polite, even if you don’t want to.”  Suggesting (albeit subliminally) that children have no control over their own bodies is a sure way to give them the wrong idea about physical affection/touch and consent; this, of course, does little to prepare them for making healthy choices in future intimate situations.

And finally, apologizing for the child, saying s/he is “just shy” or the likes, paints your child in a negative light and further invalidates his feelings and choices.

Without reading doom and gloom into every family situation, it must be mentioned here that — according to child abuse statistics, a shocking 90% of alleged abusers are in some way related to the child victim. By forcing your child to hug/kiss a relative or family friend, you may be teaching him/her that relatives cannot be abusive, or inadvertently ignoring important subtle cues that your kid is trying to convey.

For those worried that if we do not coerce, we miss the opportunity to properly educate our children to be open, warm, affectionate people, a reminder that our most effective education is by suggestion and by modeling.  Observing how we, their parents, interact over the years (and dependent on their individual temperaments), most kids will come round in time, and will develop social skills that are appropriate for various family and social settings.