Expert advises parents to teach kids to hug and kiss only when they mean it
Your little ones aren’t big huggers, which some family members take as a slight. Should you force your kids to show affection?
I would suggest teaching them to shake hands. It’s charming when little kids do it, and they may get over their reluctance to show affection to family.
— Marie Grass Amenta
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Tell them to try doing a high-five or “knuckles” with family members so that they acknowledge them and know they’re important to them. At the same time, just comment to your family that, “We’re doing high-fives these days!” If you make it a big deal, then it will become one.
— Julie Williams
It sends a mixed message to children when we tell them not to let people touch them in ways that make them feel uncomfortable, but then we force them into physical contact with people they don’t necessarily know or feel affection for. If I ever want to hug a child, I always ask, “May I hug you?” If the child shrinks away, I simply say, “That’s OK. You never have to hug anyone unless you want to.” If the child smiles and embraces me, we can both enjoy it.
— Leslie Abrahamson
“Hugs and kisses are spontaneous displays of affection that come directly from a child and should be just that,” says Betsy Brown Braun, author of “You’re Not the Boss of Me” (Harper). “It’s important that our children know that our hugs and kisses are very valuable, and we are in charge of whom we give them to. When people impose themselves on children, we want children to pay attention to how they feel and recognize that ‘uh-oh’ feeling, knowing when it feels OK and when it doesn’t.”
Unfortunately, parents don’t always see it that way. “When a child gives grandma a kiss or greets his little friend with a hug, parents sometimes look at that as a feather in their own cap — ‘Look how warm and friendly my child is,”‘ Braun says. “It becomes a reflection on their good parenting, without considering how the child might process the request.
“Every parent knows how gross it is to kiss someone you don’t want to kiss, so why would we put our kids in that position?”
Instead, Braun has these tips:
Educate your kids: “Explain to them that hugs and kisses are something you don’t give out willy-nilly. You are the boss of who gets hugs and kisses.”
Give them a choice: “Rather than say, ‘Give grandma a hug,’ you say, ‘Do you feel like giving grandma a hug?’ There are lots of ways to show affection. Let the child take the lead on that.”
Stop the guilt trips: “Sometimes grannies get offended and try guilting a child. ‘You’re not going to give me a kiss? Look what I brought you, and you’re not even going to give me a hug?'”
Talk to your relatives: “Say, ‘Oh, I’ve got to tell you, we’re trying to help little Samantha know she’s the boss of her hugs and kisses. It’s one of the safety measures we’re teaching her so when she gets older she will feel powerful if she ever finds herself in an uncomfortable situation.”‘
Ask permission: “I always say, ‘May I give you a hug or a kiss?’ If they say no, I say, ‘OK! I’m just going to blow you a kiss.”‘
“The surest way to have affection given to you is to let it be spontaneous,” Braun says. “When it comes, welcome it. Don’t impose or require it.”