Giving hugs: I don’t know about you, but even though I am a physical touch person and love hugs, I don’t love being forced or expected to give hugs to others, even if they are family members. So why is there an expectation that children should have to give hugs and kisses, etc? Why can’t we allow them the ability to choose for themselves. We might chalk it up to norms and values, but that diminishes the value of our children.
When we gather with family members there is often an expectation that our children must give Nanna or Grandpa a hug, even giving Great Aunt Beryl a kiss. Why? How, as parents, do we deal with this? What do we do if our child just doesn’t want to give a hug or kiss? I know that I am a firm believer in not forcing them to, even if it does make you look mean.
Hugs and kisses should happen because you want to give them, not because you have to.
FAMILY CORE VALUES
We have two affectionate little girls and they love to give hugs. I have noticed that they want to give hugs when I think they shouldn’t (like to people we barely know), but I don’t want to put the kibosh on that. I don’t want them to feel that it is wrong. But I do know that I want them to be aware that their body is theirs, and they are powerful, and they never have to give a hug or a kiss if they don’t want to.
This is part of our family core values. Your body is your own. (But that is still backed up with, “You need to wear clothes in the front yard!” My goodness they are free. Not all the neighbors need to see their freedom. Sheesh.)
We also believe in treating others with respect, so you can give a hand shake, a fist bump, a high-five, or even a wave. These are genuine ways you can acknowledge someone and greet them. Not giving a hug or kiss is not rude manners. It is not being mean or disrespectful. It is simply a child who is acknowledging that they don’t want to do that but can say hello or goodbye in other appropriate ways.
IMPORTANCE OF GRANDPARENTS
I don’t want to diminish the importance of grandparents, or extended family really. If at all possible, it is good for our children to be around their grandparents (as long as it isn’t a toxic environment). The role of grandparents is one that can be cherished. But we cannot expect our children to give hugs and kisses if they don’t want to. It might take some explaining to your parents. Or it might mean setting boundaries with in laws. But the time it takes will be worth it. Children need to value their grandparents but they shouldn’t be taught that the only way to show that value is by giving hugs.
VIOLATION OF SOCIAL NORMS
I had someone once say to me that if we are not teaching our children to respect the elderly and family members, etc then we are in violation of social norms. This took a little bit of unpacking to do. What violation? What social norms? I mean, social norms are the unwritten rules of behavior that are considered acceptable in a group or society. It can cover everything from how we behave in class to how we stand on an elevator, from using a phone to dining out. It did ultimately come down to the expectation of children giving elderly family members hugs, etc. as this was “socially normal”. Is it? By whose social standard? Different cultures express themselves in different ways. So do different families. And what are we teaching our children if we are pushing them to do something someone else is expecting because of generational differences?
We need to teach our children that we respect their personal space. While they are small and need help with bathing, dressing, going to the toilet etc, we are going to be up in their personal space a whole lot! (Nothing is more personal than wiping someone’s behind.) But as they get older we need to respect their space and how they would like to interact. We need to be teaching them how to control themselves and make their own decisions, otherwise we have 18 years of control and decision making and then suddenly it is “You are an adult! Congrats! Make your own decisions and be in control!”
We have been working on personal space and have a song about it, a silly one called “Get your butt out of my face”. It is about knowing and understanding a person’s personal space. I have also found myself asking if I can give the girls a hug or kiss. I probably should do it more as they get older, but it is hard. Knowing that they love to give hugs and kisses makes it easier to give some myself. Recently one of the girls got strep and was told not to give kisses for 48 hours. Her response was “How am I meant to live? Do you want life to be boring?” Two days was too long! It made me smile (but not in her presence). That is how much she values kisses – and she will often lean in and give you a kiss on the arm or back when she thinks you are not paying attention, just because she wants to.
So, do children need boundaries in giving hugs and kisses? Yes, they do! Do they need the freedom to not give them if they don’t want to? YES! I don’t think we should ever put the expectation on our kids to be giving hugs – even to family members. Let’s step back and give some space, and teach about personal space.