Sometimes people over step a child’s boundaries and expect physical affection, even when the child clearly isn’t comfortable with that. Usually there is no intent to be disrespectful, but sticking up for your child’s right to say not to hugs and kisses is an important lesson for everyone.
He has never been a touchy feely kind of kid.
As a toddler he pushed away as often as he reached out, as a school kid he doles out his hugs fiercely, but selectively, and he has never liked kisses.
It doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you. If you give him time you will see how much he adores you. If you give him space he will reward you with long snugly conversations and hugs that are so forceful they literally knock the air out of you… but not kisses, never kisses.
He and I have an inside joke about ‘cow kisses’ and every once in awhile he’ll let me give him one, if he’s in a playful mood. But he isn’t often in the mood, not even for his mother’s kisses, and I respect that.
It’s something others sometimes find hard to understand, especially when he was younger and he hadn’t perfected his death stare yet.
“Go on, give me a kiss!”
“Don’t you love me?”
“Just a little kiss!”
The requests would come from mostly from relations, often in the form of teasing, or joking, but also often being said again and again, and with mock sadness or anger when my child refused physical contact, or became upset and confused about the interaction.
I know the requests are made with bags of love, I know there is no intent to be disrespectful or make anyone uncomfortable, and I know there are some deep-ceded generational ideas and expectations, but it makes my child feel pressured and uncomfortable, confused, and frustrated.
I’ve always taught him to simply say ‘no thanks, I don’t like kisses’. Or I’ve said it for him if he wasn’t able to.
Now that he is older, I suggest that he could offer some other form of affection if he is comfortable with that, a handshake, or a high five and a big smile. We try to explain in a polite manner and then move on. Often that is enough, but sometimes people still persist.
I know they love him, but it is still not ok.
When a child clearly states that they do not want to be touched, hugged, or kissed, I expect adults to respect that.
I want my children to know that ‘no means no’. I want them to understand consent, to seek it, respect it, and expect it in return.
I want them to know that when they say ‘no’ to being touched, others should respect it. I also want my children to learn that when someone else says ‘no’, they need to respect that too, no questions asked, even if they don’t want to. I especially want to raise men who understand consent and this is where that learning begins.
I want my children to know that it is good to listen to their inner voice, and that it is ok to speak out, and say when things make them feel uncomfortable.
I want them to know that they never have to blindly obey a request if they feel uneasy, or uncomfortable about it. I want them to know they can always respectfully ask questions, negotiate, or seek help.
I want my children to know that they have control over their own bodies, and they get to say who can and can’t touch them.
It is hard to teach these things to my children when some adults, even with the best of intentions, and certainly not meaning to, send the opposite message.
So please, when a child says ‘no kisses!’ or ‘I don’t want to hug today’, or even just turns their head away… please don’t take it personally. It’s not that they don’t love you, it’s just that they have a right to their personal space, and no means no whether you are 2, 6, 26, or 62.
Please respect a child’s personal boundaries just as you would with another adult.
Are your kids into hugs and kisses, or not so much?
How do you handle this often tricky situation?
Read the comments or scroll down to add your own:
I remember the rare occasions as a kid that my parents made me hug somebody I didn’t want to (very rare, they were extremely considerate) and how it made me feel skeevy all day. So I never make a kid hug or kiss me, even my little nephew. I high five kids. If they want to hug me, they do and they are welcome to. But it’s on their initiative. The high five fulfills the social obligation and kids love it–they do love to hit things! Plus they can do it very, very young, so it works. I think this is a particularly tough dynamic for parents. How can you teach a child that no one has the right to touch them, but then force them to endure the touches of family members that they don’t want–talk about a mixed message, especially considering that family members are by far the most likely to molest a child?
i wish I could get my husband to read this! He was diagnosed with a severe mental disorder right after our twins 2nd birthday and doesn’t understand why they don’t want to give him affection all day long like they do me and my parents. Kids are really good at picking up emotions….and when he is having an off day they know. I’m still trying to teach my husband that just because they sometimes avoid him doesn’t mean they don’t love him, just that they know that daddy can’t always control his actions.
Great article! How would you advise handling similar issues with kids at their doctor’s appointments? My kids are clearly uncomfortable when the doctor has them lie down to press on their stomachs, etc. I am always in the room with them of course and I try to offer comfort. And obviously they hate shots. And I hate holding them when they get their shots. Any advise?
My kids also find these moments difficult as they take a long time to warm up to people and you just don’t have that time at the Drs do you! I try to explain what will happen ahead of time to give them as much time as possible to wrap their heads around what will happen. If it is not really really important I will also let them say no – say for example just a routine check up I’m happy for them to refuse to open their mouths as long as they are polite.
Thank you. The blood test story made me teary eyed! Being a parent is so hard at times like that. Good tips, I’ll be sure to use them.
We are not at this stage uet, but I will be sure to make a point to teach my children that their personal space is theirs.
Tracey Witts says
A very thoughtful and insightful post, my daughter has autism and PDA and all physical contact is on her terms, we have also taught mutual respect and have hand signals when no (and should) mean no and someone is bursting a bubble. I believe this teaches how to express yourself from a young age, and although I have always been able to read signals, not many others could with my daughter, now she can express herself more, my family respects her expressions and when she wants and is able to show affection that is when we are happy to receive and reciprocate xxx
I appreciate your article. And I agree with everything about boundaries. But licking a child is not ok. In any shape or form hence a mixed message in itself
Generally I would agree with you… but the ‘cow kiss’ is an affectionate joke between my boy and I and we only ever do it when the other is ok with it. So we respect each other’s feelings about cow kisses, always.
Mine is very kissy and huggy however only with mom (me ) and it took awhile for him to get affectionate even with me. As a newborn after breastfeeding we’d laugh as he’d arch hus back and shove me away. If i tried to snuggle him he’d keep arching and shoving until I laid him down to sleep. We would chuckle about the unaffectionate baby…but it hurt. I remember crying.
He was a busy toddler too. Loud and assertive and always moving. Always looking around. ..like a bird…he missed nothing . So intelligent! But his lack of eye contact and interest in us was almost frightening at the time. I feared some level of autism.
He has suffered severe panic and anxiety attacks since he was 2 years old. He is doing far better now with his anxiety and woth that came affection. Suddenly I have a 5 , 6 and now almost 7 year old who hates to be seperate from his mom…loves me fiercely and unequivocally. I get 100 kisses a day…written letters cards and awards he makes up for me….world’s best Mom. I cry a tear of joy as i write this. It took him awhile. ..but now. ..I can feel the love he gives me…and it lifts me up. They all love in their own ways.
I applaud your defence of your son’s choices. I wish all parents were as sensitive and able to recognize their child’s wants and needs. Perhaps society as a whole would be a kinder more respectful and caring place.
i agree, if a child does not want a hug or a kiss, you should teach then an alternative like a high five. But always respect their wishes. Not all children want to be hugged and kissed by everybody
Thank you so much for this article. My 19 month old has always been uncomfortable with other people except me and his dad. When someone gets close to him he cries and runs to us. Our friends will often try to take him even though he is screaming saying he should get used to people, he will be quiet in a few minutes. It never gets better. Recently when it happened when someone visited, I just didn’t like it. He held him, put him on his shoulders and so on, all while baby was crying hysterically. I was furious but I didn’t know how to tell him to leave baby alone. I felt like maybe it’s wrong of me to feel that way? But this article confirms that I’m not crazy. It’s not alright. Thank you so much.
I’m gonna go into a bit of a rough topic here. I was sexually abused as a child, by a distant relative. We are latino, and in our culture, not hugging and kissing your relatives when they ask you is considered very disrespectful. So this adult took advantage of this, by asking me to kiss him in the cheek and the turning his head to kiss me on the mouth, hugging me and slipping his hand to touch into my privates… basically taking advantage of the fact that I was taught to be a “respectful” kid to abuse me.
This is a hard story, but I use it to congratulate you and to encourage other parents to teach their children to define and confidently state their limits. No child should be taught that they HAVE to touch, kiss, hug or otherwise break personal space when they don’t want to.
I am so sorry you were put through that, but thank you so much for sharing your story. You have a strong and important message to share.
I love your post and think you have a lot of good points. A note of caution though: I notice kids pull away from a hug, kiss or snuggle when it’s a person they’re not feeling very connected to- the expression of love doesn’t feel like it fits the relationship. A point you made well. If that child is your own son or daughter, it is highly likely that their pulling away is a symptom of deeper issues in the relationship and a sign to you that you need to work on your connection with that little one (kids on the spectrum would be a different story). Yes, I totally agree we should never force our affection on a child, but to write it off as “my child just doesn’t like hugs/kisses/snuggles ” may be an excuse to not repair a broken relationship. From reading your post it doesn’t sound like that is the case with you and your son. But I wouldn’t want anyone to read your post and then mistake their own child physically pulling away from them as preference and not a cry for deeper belonging.
Lorayne Gothard says
I have cried privately many time worried about my 12 year old daughter. She doesn’t want her very affectionate younger sister to hug her or kiss her. I have tried to find a compromise but haven’t so far. She doesn’t really want her father or myself to be affectionate and she never initiates affection or says I love you unless we say it, which is fine. I have little nicknames for the kids and she doesn’t like that either. She is very bright and seems happy but I feel I’ve failed her in some way. I don’t want her to feel like she has to receive or give affection but I worry how this will affect her later or God forbid think we don’t love her if we stop. I don’t want to stop trying to love my child. I’m very torn.
Don’t stop trying!
There are more ways to show affection than just physically! But if you feel this is more than just your child not feeling comfortable to hug a random family member, or if you are not sure how to cope with it, then find some support. The best thing I ever did for my child and myself was seek help when I didn’t know how to manage some overwhelming behaviour… it’s not always easy to take the first step, but it is so worth it.
Thank goodness I’m not alone! I am now a grown teenager, and for as long as I can remember, I NEVER liked being kissed by my parents, and HATED it when they force me to kiss them. My mom has stopped asking for them, but my dad still doesn’t understand. He often tells me to “grow up” or “get over it already”. Very frustrating.