I am shocked at what I have been doing to my child.
“Donne un beau bec!”
“Give Grandma a hug!”
“Give Uncle George a kiss goodbye!”
I had no idea that by telling my child to do these things, I was doing her a tremendous disservice.
I grew up in a culture where every adult relative or friend was considered family. Friends of the family were all “aunts” and “uncles”. Even if they weren’t blood related, we still called them aunt and uncle. The same went for people my grandparents’ age. They were always grandpa and grandma, even if we weren’t related to them.
It was a sign of respect. It was a sign of good manners and politeness.
As a kid, my brothers, cousins and I were always told to give Uncle So-and-So a hug or give Auntie What’s-her-name a kiss. It was a sign of courtesy and respect.
I passed this practice onto my own child. It would often frustrate me when Little One was reluctant to give hugs or even at times refuse.
I should have known better, but I kept forcing her to give hugs.
Shocked at what I was doing to my child unknowingly
Sarah Ockwell-Smith wrote an article in Huffington Post – Don’t Make Your Child Kiss or Hug Relatives.
Ms. Smith makes some excellent points. We would never consider it okay if anyone told us (adults) to hug or kiss anyone or to let anyone touch us or force kisses upon us. We wouldn’t find it acceptable to be forced to do something against our will and not have the opportunity to say NO.
Imagine not being able to say “no means no”? Yet, this is what is happening to children every day.
In hindsight, one would think that it was a no-brainer and that as parents we should not force our kids to give hugs to people. When Little One hesitates or recoils, or even half-heartedly or reluctantly gives hugs, that is a sign that she doesn’t want to give hugs. As her mom, I should have recognized that.
I remember as a child being told to do the same, and I did not always want to give hugs to people I was not familiar with. “Be a good girl. Give So-and-So a hug!”
As a kid, I remember adults being shocked when a cousin or one of my brothers refused to give hugs or accept kisses. It simply was not acceptable for a child to refuse — At least not in our Filipino culture it wasn’t.
I’ve been reading a lot of articles from parenting expert and therapist, Alyson Schafer. A while ago, I came across an piece where Alyson spoke about consent. The article in the Huffington Post was Teaching Sexual Consent Starts in Preschool.
The more I thought about not just encouraging my child to give out hugs to everyone, but actually making her do it against her will, the more shocked I was at myself. Why hadn’t it occurred to me that this wasn’t right? It was common practice back when I was a kid, but I should know better as an adult and as her parent.
My stomach was in knots. What have I been doing to my daughter?
I hadn’t considered the element of bodily autonomy, which is what we should be teaching children from an early age.
Surely, as a parent, I have the best intentions for my child. I want her to grow up into a respectful teen and adult. Reading Alyson’s message really made sense though. Children should be taught to give consent. It is not up to anyone other than the child (not even a parent) to make the decision of whether a child gives hugs or kisses to anyone.
Little One is not an overly affectionate child, unless it’s on her terms. When she is comfortable with people, she welcomes hugs. It takes her a while to warm up to people, but when she does, it can be hard to pry her away!
The following video is so important for both parents and children to watch. Help children practice consent, and at an early age.
Can a hug-loving person just give hugs at random? As a kid, I thought this was okay. All my grandmother’s friends would give us lots of hugs and kisses…even if we hardly knew them.
Now I realize that is important to ask for consent and listen to the answer. We need to respect personal space and respect what people are comfortable with.
Bribery is not okay either. I’ve witnessed this in other families as well. “If you give Aunt Louise goodbye, I’ll give you a candy”. I remember thinking that was odd, but it was something that was practiced when I was a kid.
Simply asking “Would you like a hug?” makes so much sense. Accepting the answer is equally important. If a child says he or she would rather not, hopefully the adult will understand. It’s not a form or rebellion or rudeness, or disrespect. The child is likely just not comfortable.
Little One is generous with her affections…when on her terms
I am always shocked when Little One immediately gives someone a hug or takes an adult by the hand, because this is not common behaviour for her. She typically takes her time to warm up, and doesn’t dole out her affections to anyone. This, I’ve learned is a good thing.
When it comes to people in her life who she is more than happy to give hugs to, it’s those who she has connected with, trusts, and loves. Really, it should be that way. Shouldn’t it?
Although I grew up in a culture that is very “huggy” and “kissy”, I am not going to force my child to hug and kiss everyone. I love my cultural background, and there are so many aspects of my culture that I love and respect. I love how tightly-knit my family is! I am fortunate that Little One feels close to my extended family and she considers everyone close family.
Consent should start at an early age
I am shocked and sorry about what I have been doing (unconsciously) to my child. She has never brought the subject up, and now that I’ve recognized what I’ve been doing to her unconsciously, I am making sure I will stop. From now on, if she doesn’t want to give a goodbye hug or kiss, that is absolutely fine. Those decisions are up to her.
A high five or a wave goodbye can also serve as an acknowledgement and if she is comfortable and wants to give a hug, she can do that on her own volition.
Parents, what are your thoughts? Have you ever made your kids give hugs or kisses to relatives or family friends?
* Remember to be respectful and courteous when commenting. All opinions welcome, however abusive comments or comments with profanity are not acceptable.
Well written Christine. You really nailed how I feel about this. I was never fond of having to give people hugs or kisses as a child, so I’ve always felt at odds when parents do this.
I guess I might have. I understand why is not so great after reading this. I was never a hugger & now both my kids are not huggers. I wish they were. The affection of touch to our elders means so much. They do hug if someone wants one but they never initiate the hug. I should mention they are adults now.
I saw your blog post via a tweet in my feed. Thank you for writing such an open and honest post. This struck a chord in me. I grew up in a time when kids had to give hugs and had no idea choice. Growing up it made it hard for me to realize that I had three right to say no. Without going into great detail, knowing I had the choice, things could have been much different for me. For parents now and for kids in the future, knowing this is a game changer. You may not have realized by writing his that you have made a difference — if even by sparking that thought for change.
Alexa Clark says
Christine, I’ve spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out how to leave this comment.
I was raised, like you, to hug and kiss when I went to bed, when friends arrived and left. And was not given the autonomy over my own body, not taught that I could say “no”. And unfortunately, that contributed to a situation that meant I was sexually abused by multiple people before I was school-aged.
I believe I’ve told you this before. But I have never written about it and I’m striving to find a way to leave a comment on your post.
I was so moved and impacted by reading your honest shock and awakening that I had my own ephipany about what my parents must go through when they read things like that article that triggered you. My parents, like you, are loving, intelligent and protective and worked to raise an open, trusting and self-actualized child. They didn’t do anything wrong.
But this one extra piece could have helped me.
Your post, the original article and piece like this will, WILL, change the culture that made it easier for me to be a target as a child.
So thank you, for all the little girls and boys out there that need someone to remind their parents that they should be able to say no, to protect themselves because sometimes their parents aren’t there.
And to the women and men who need to own their bodies and consent earlier rather than later.
You are a star… and yet again made me cry.
I come from a generation where we were told to give Aunt Bessie a hug and had no choice. We had to do it. I think parenting has changed quite a bit over the decades and generations. This frame of mind makes a lot of sense. Thanks for sharing your heartfelt thoughts in this article.
Thanks for popping by and taking the time to leave me a comment, Becca! <3 I, like you, had to give hugs and kisses, and had no choice. That's how it was. Growing up, I didn't realize how it would affect kids as adults, not having a say. Hopefully people of generations before mine will accept that my child is given a choice and it is her choice alone. It is not a sign of disrespect. She still needs to acknowledge verbally and give at least a high five or a handshake 🙂 Even a wave will suffice if she doesn't want to give a hug.
Ashley P says
I completely agree. I have never forced my kids to give hugs/kisses (even to me – I always ask if they have any).
It never occurred to me to ASK! Which is crazy because it totally makes sense to ask! I was never asked as a kid. Good thing for Little One, I’ve seen the need for change. 🙂
I also read that article. …I now think about the issue in a new light.
as R is extremely sensitive to how some people treat him….it would be a disaster in the making to even stand near some people. Slowly I am understanding how to help him understand his feelings better.
We never had a choice as a child and unfortunately that feeling has stuck ….again slowly I am understanding how this affects how we live our lives.
Thank you for sharing this article and your thoughts.
Thanks so much, Cathy! I was thinking the other night about culture and how things were the way they were with our family because that was how we did things. No questions asked. It was custom. It’s sometimes hard to move away from certain aspects of culture. I absolutely LOVE the warm, close-knit, amazing, friendly side to my culture, yet I realize for some, the affection and hugs can be a bit overwhelming if not used to it or if not comfortable with affection like that. The affection is not what I worry about. It’s the not asking for it. Like giving hugs when not even sure if the recipient of the hug is okay with it, or assuming it’s okay to just get hugs. Maybe the person (adult or kid) doesn’t want to give a hug. 🙂 I had a chat with my almost 8 year old last night and she said 90% of the time, she is happy to give and receive hugs. She said she is happy the choice is hers.