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My Kids Don’t Have To Hug You And That’s Okay

My Kids Don’t Want To Hug You

And That’s Okay

hug-you

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.

About Rachel Stewart

Rachel is the founder of Parenting Central Australia. She is raising two children, boy and girl, with her partner.She has a background in early childhood education, but right now is content to be a stay at home mum.She is passionate about birthing rights, breastfeeding and mental health. She enjoys crafting, drinking coffee (sometimes wine) and spending a little too much time on Facebook.

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8 comments

  1. Melissa Sorini

    Fuck yes to all of this – great post. This is one of those things that I am super-glad has changed since we were kids.

  2. I agree so much Rach! You are one vigilant mama, you’re kids are lucky to have you

  3. Amen! It’s never to early to teach consent and respect for your own body and for others.

  4. Preach it! I agree 100%- we need to really think about things like this- so many wouldn’t even make the correlation between forcing kids to be affectionate and teaching them that they don’t have agency over their own bodies.

  5. Tash @ Gift Grapevine

    Fantastic post Rachel – teaching kids consent is so important. Affection should never be forced. My tornadoes can be shy too and I hate seeing them uncomfortable when coerced to hug. Luckily our family don’t force the issue, understand and give them their space.

  6. Rachel @ Tweens2teen

    You are so right Rachel. I think it’s wrong that we expect everyone to be outgoing and undervalue shyness as a weakness. Shy people tend to be great observers and more careful with their words. If you work in an office, you’ll find that the shy people are often the one’s who keep life humming along despite the drama of more outgoing people. Everyone can find a place in this world where their personality feels right. I’m with you, our kids should be allowed to set the boundaries of touching and talking. Thanks for writing this!

  7. This is so right!! My kids are pretty outgoing but we still have let them know they don’t have to do anything they don’t feel comfortable with as in showing affection to others. Interestingly my nephews have been actively encouraged to not give kisses and hugs and yet whenever they see me or my parents all they want to do is sit and snuggle which I find interesting, you know when they aren’t off playing/fighting with their cousins.

  8. It’s a really good point you make − and so important. I’m glad my two have also had the message taught to them at school, which they have repeated at each other too (not always in the right context), but yes, it starts at home.

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