You know the scene, you have relatives visiting who you don’t see very often. It’s time for them to go and before you know it you’re saying “Go and give Uncle Fred a hug goodbye!” to your child. You know they don’t want to, but the words fall out of your mouth before you know it. It happens in family’s everywhere all the time. It is the “done thing” when relatives leave.
Maybe it’s the relative that holds out their arms expecting this child they’ve just met to run and cuddle them. “Give us a hug goodbye!” Or even “Give us a kiss goodbye!”
For Joe and I it’s clear, if Lily says no, then it’s a no. I’m not going to force my child to hug someone they don’t want to. And here’s why in my opinion you shouldn’t either…
Try to see if from your child’s perspective, you may even remember a similar situation when you were a child. “Ah it didn’t do me any harm!” Well perhaps it didn’t, but you probably didn’t like it all the same. It probably wouldn’t have been an enjoyable experience, in fact it may have been one you dreaded when visiting relatives. The unwanted kiss on the cheek from Great Aunt Edith! The reason that you didn’t like it, is it made you feel very uncomfortable. So why are we making children feel this way if we don’t need to?!
In a previous post I talk about instilling confidence in to our children. So surely this goes hand in hand with them also being confident about their bodies, and what they do or don’t want other people to do with regards to their body. For them to grow up and have the confidence to say no to unwanted physical contact as an adult, can start as a child having the confidence to say no to an unwanted hug.
Lily may be my child but it is her own body. Her body and her choice who she hugs. Who am I to force her?! Put yourself in your child’s shoes: You’ve just met someone at an event, you go to leave and they ask you to hug or kiss them, you say no, but they push “Oh go on, give me a hug, just a little one!”. Your friend who went to the event with you then starts joining in “Go on give them a hug or a kiss, be nice!” Imagine the pressure. Your toddler doesn’t know this person, or at least not enough to feel comfortable voluntarily hugging them, so why should they? Even if they know them well, if they don’t want to have physical contact with them they shouldn’t feel forced.
I have previously seen situations where parents have almost been telling off their child for not hugging a relative goodbye. This is not a child being naughty, they are merely telling you they don’t want to have physical contact with someone they don’t know well.
But I do understand why it happens, it’s intentions are good, parents are merely trying to be friendly and affectionate to friends and family. But seeing it from a child’s perspective it surely has to stop.
So what can you do instead? I think giving your child the choice is a good way to go, ask your child “Do you want to wave goodbye or have a hug?” This way if they are happy to give them a hug they can, but there’s no obligation. You could do a high five instead, or just a big grin. Any sensible adult would never take offence to not having a hug. They will realise that it’s entirely fair enough that a child doesn’t want to give them a hug, any more than if an adult didn’t want to. It’s in no way a sign that the child doesn’t like them, or is impolite. It’s merely the child not wanting to have physical contact with someone it doesn’t particularly know or feel close to.