My Kids Don’t Want To Hug You
And That’s Okay
I don’t let anyone touch, hug, kiss, hold, pick up or tickle my children if my child indicates they don’t want them to.
They don’t even need to say “no”; we have more of a “Yes means yes” policy.
I will ask my kids if they’d like to give someone a hug goodbye, but if they aren’t enthusiastic about it – no drama. No pressure. No coercion. And absolutely no force.
Family Forcing Affection
When I was a child it was normal for me to be made to hug and kiss people even when I didn’t feel comfortable. And my resistance was something that I was made to feel bad about. I was teased with “Oh, I know you hate me, but come and give me a kiss.”
So, I didn’t just have to comply, I had to pretend that I wanted to. I had to fake enthusiasm when I was deeply uncomfortable. While my parents watched on saying nothing.
I’m sure this was done out of love. I imagine part of the problem was we lived a long way from our extended family, so we only saw them once or twice a year. And a whole year between visits for a kid meant these family members were essentially strangers to me.
Even if they knew me, and loved me. Even though they missed me. I didn’t know them.
The Big Risk
Teaching children they have no right to say no to unwanted touching isn’t just disrespectful, it’s potentially dangerous.
When I was ten years old a very close family friend made me sit in his lap. Someone I had known him all my life. He held me there even when I tried to get up and move away. He was just hugging me while he told me he loved me and that he wanted to marry me. When my Mum walked into the room he let me go and I practically bolted to my room and shut the door.
I knew in my gut it was wrong – I just didn’t know why. I didn’t know I could say no, and I never told my parents. On a scale of what could have happened – what does happen to other children – it wasn’t that bad. But it still wasn’t okay.
So that’s one big reason that I don’t force my children to hug people. I want them to know nobody has the right to touch their body. And if anyone touches them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable I want them to know they can tell me.
Teaching Kids Consent
This is a super uncomfortable to even think about, but it’s also important to teach children about consent for other people. One day they will be adults themselves and it’s SO important they also understand consent. By teaching them that nobody can touch their body if they don’t want them to they’re also learning they can’t touch anyone else without consent. And consent isn’t complicated. It’s just asking before you touch another person’s body.
My seven year old has started asking before he hugs people. We’ve never told him to do it, but he’ll usually ask “Do you want a cuddle?” Admittedly he doesn’t always wait for an answer, and my answer will always be yes, but without it ever being enforced, he’s learning that consent goes both ways.
It’s Okay To Be Shy
My kids are both a bit shy – and that’s totally okay. I don’t actually want them to freely run to every person they meet. It’s okay that they take a little while to warm up. I will – and have – stood up to people who haven’t respected my kid’s boundaries.
One time a family member visited us from interstate. She hadn’t seen the kids for a year so she was understandably excited to see them. Within an hour of her arrival my partner said he would drive her right back to the airport if she didn’t back off.
Thankfully she did give our kids some space – and guess what happened? Within a couple of hours our son was bringing out all of his toys to show her. And by that evening he was sidling up next to her on the couch for a cuddle.
Isn’t it so much sweeter if a child is giving you affection because they truly want to? Not because they feel forced, or obligated, but because they’re genuinely forming a bond with you?
I can’t imagine why anyone would want a hug if it’s going to make a child uncomfortable. What could you possibly get out of that?
So, just wait. And if they never warm up, that’s okay too. They don’t have to love everyone. But you’ve got a far better chance winning their affection if you stand back and let them come to you.