5 Tips When Your Kid Does Not Want to Hug a Relative

Allow kids to make decisions about when to hug or kiss their relatives

grandson and grandma high-five

As we head towards the holiday season, dealing with family and visits with grandparents and other relatives, one particular awkward situation is bound to happen in many families, and most parents will be unprepared to deal with it. This situation involves relatives who expect (or sometimes demand) hugs and kisses from toddlers and children. Sometimes these children do not want to show affection or downright refuse.

Many parents feel bad or uncomfortable and urge their children to return (or at least deal with) this unwanted physical contact.

Should parents force kids to return this unwanted affection?

What messages are we sending to our kids about their bodies and boundaries when we do this?

Affection Should Never be Forced

Most parents believe grandma's kisses and hugs are far removed from the concept of sexual abuse, but Katia Hetter, the author of a CNN article entitled I Don't Own My Child's Body states that "Forcing children to touch people when they don't want to leaves them vulnerable to sexual abusers, most of whom are people known to the children they abuse."

This CNN article explores the question of forcing your kids to endure unwanted affection. Sending your kids the message that it is ok for adults to force them to endure unwanted affects means that you are violating their comfort zone and in doing so, they may learn to accept that it is ok for anyone to come into their personal space.

Teach Kids to Respect Their Bodies

Kids need to be taught to respect their body and learn boundaries pertaining to others invading their personal space. Setting personal boundaries is learned behavior and as parents, it is our job to model it. Teach kids that they never have to touch or be touched if it makes them uncomfortable or "feel weird." Even if your Great Aunt will get her feelings hurt - it is important for your child to make their own decision about their bodies and decide who is allowed in their personal space.

Send the message that giving a relative a hug or kiss is the child's decision and hugs and kisses are never required.

Teach Kids to Respect Others

Giving your child a voice is an important part of preventing abuse. It is important to try to understand how your child feels when a relative demands physical affection. Discuss with your kids what it feels like when you don't want to do something and stress the importance of listening to your bodies and feelings. Teaching your kids to trust their feelings and decide whether or not they want affection, they will grow into adults who are able respect if their kids or young relatives do not want to be hugged or kissed.

Be a Positive Role Model

Many parents may feel comfortable telling Grandma or Great Uncle to back down, but its necessary for your children to hear you speaking up for them. Adults need to be positive role models and display appropriate boundaries and behaviors for their kids. Displaying good communication skills and strong boundaries will also strengthen your parent-child bond.

If this is something you are uncomfortable with as an adult (and many adults are), take some time to speak with a friend, partner or someone you trust prior to the holidays or uncomfortable situation. Anticipating what may happen will help you prepare your reactions and responses so you answer confidently and show your child that saying "no" politely is not frowned upon.

How To Deal With Relative's Hurt Feelings

Many toddlers refuse to do things simply because they like to test adults, but refusing to eat broccoli and refusing a hug from a Grandpa should not be put in the same category. Children should be taught that it is ok to politely decline physical displays of affections. A good first step may be to explain your policy to relatives. Adults, even close relatives, will hopefully respect your decision and want to be on the same page as you and your children.

Think about your policy beforehand and discuss the topic with your child. If your child does not want to give or receive hugs, encourage them to think of other says to say "hello." Maybe a handshake or high-five is a better option. Offer your child choices so they feel in control of their bodies and their decisions. Some kids choose to make a special handshake with relatives. This can be a fun alternative to a forced hug and kids are excited to have a unique way to greet Grandpa that no one else knows.

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