I don’t believe we need to force kids to show affection. This is The Reason Why I Do Not Force My Kids To Hug Or Kiss. They can do it when they feel like it, in a beautiful and authentic way.
When my 6 year old was a baby, I used to enthusiastically encourage him to hug and kiss his friends or family members. However, I noticed that when I would say “Say hello and kiss your uncle”, or “Say bye bye to your friend Tony and hug him” it did not sound natural. He would do it, but it wasn’t sincere and sometimes he would go all shy on me or flat out refuse.
Kids are naturally very enthusiastic and able to communicate their feelings. But I believe they should communicate when they ‘want’ to communicate and we should let them be themselves and not force them. What good does it do for them to make them hug or kiss if they don’t really mean it? And there is even a bigger problem in forcing kids to be affectionate to others in certain situations.
Ursula Wagner from FamilyWorks in Chicago says that forcing physical contact like hugs “sends a message that there are certain situations when it’s not up to them what they do with their bodies.” That message can have multiple repercussions as children grow: Irene Vanderzand, cofounder of Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International, says that “forcing children to submit to unwanted affection in order not to offend a relative or hurt a friend’s feelings, we teach them that their bodies do not really belong to them because they have to push aside their own feelings about what feels right to them… This can lead to children getting sexually abused, teen girls submitting to sexual behavior so ‘he’ll like me’ and kids enduring bullying because everyone is ‘having fun.’”
Katia Hetter, a CNN Digital Writer/Producer wrote I don’t own my child’s body. In the article, Katia Hetter taught her daughter an important lesson with a very simple phrase: “I would like you to hug Grandma, but I won’t make you do it.” Hetter felt it provided a good opportunity to teach her daughter “that it’s OK to say no to an adult who lays a hand on her, even a seemingly friendly hand.”
As she explained, “I figure her body is actually hers, not mine. It doesn’t belong to her parents, preschool teacher, dance teacher or soccer coach. While she must treat people with respect, she doesn’t have to offer physical affection to please them. And the earlier she learns ownership of herself and responsibility for her body, the better for her.”
Hetter also points out that allowing children to refuse hugs does not mean allowing them to be rude: “She has to be polite when greeting people, whether she knows them or not. When family and friends greet us, I give her the option of ‘a hug or a high-five.’ Since she’s been watching adults greet each other with a handshake, she sometimes offers that option.” Hetter explains to family members “why we’re letting her decide who she touches.” And, as she’s already observed, there is one additional benefit to letting her daughter lead the way when it comes to physical contact: “When my child cuddled up to my mother on the sofa recently, happily talking to her about stories and socks and toes and other things, my mother’s face lit up. She knew it was real.”
To start teaching children — girls and boys alike — from a young age about the need to respect others and their personal boundaries, there is a highly recommended book No Means No!: Teaching Children about Personal Boundaries, Respect and Consent” for ages 3 to 6, Your Body Belongs to You for ages 3 to 5, and My Body! What I Say Goes! for ages 3 to 6.
For resources for tweens and teens on body autonomy, as well as general resources on their changing bodies, check out, “A Time of Change: Talking with Tweens and Teens about their Bodies” at A Mightly Girl
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