Should we insist our children hug the relatives this Christmas? This festive season is unlike any other. Due to COVID, many of our kids have not seen their extended family and relatives for many months, even years.

Of course, the relatives, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins are genuinely excited to see, hug, and hold their little family member. Insisting they hug them when first seeing them?

The Right of the Child

What about the right of the child? We teach our children they own their bodies and the feeling of control to permit anyone to hold or touch them. Then we have the family arrive, and they are perhaps strangers, yet the children are told to allow this invasion of their bodies. They are strongly encouraged or told to give Aunty Fran, Uncle Fred, nana Mary a big kiss and hug.

One of the lessons parents are teaching their children is that they own their bodies. When we tell children they have to hug or kiss an adult, even giving Grandma a hug, hello or goodbye, we send mixed messages about who is in control of their bodies. We teach children what appropriate and inappropriate touches are and what to do if touched inappropriately.

In one instance, we tell them they can say no to touches that make them uncomfortable, but then we request they show affection, perhaps against their will. Forcing our children to show affection when they may be uncomfortable can send the message there are times when it’s not up to them what happens to their bodies.

When asked, many parents are worried if a child doesn’t hug or kiss a relative. They may feel judged by that relative. While this can be a little uncomfortable for the parent or relative, it remains essential we continue to help our children understand they oversee their bodies.

This year, after so many lockdowns and separations of family, it is vital that the children and relatives understand the child’s position. They should have a voice, be heard, and be considered.

Some tips on managing the conversation prior to relatives arriving:

  • Speak about those relatives with the child while showing pictures of them.
  • Ensure the child knows that the relative is so excited to see them and may wish to give them a big hug.
  • Assure your child they remain in charge of their body, and if they are comfortable hugging the relative when they first see them, that’s fine, or if they prefer to wait, that is fine as well.
  • Be reassuring that if the child doesn’t want to hug or kiss the relative, they do not need to because they are in charge of who touches them, always.
  • Talk to your relatives and explain why you aren’t making your child hug or kiss them at greetings or goodbyes. Please make sure they are aware of the body boundaries you are teaching your child.
  • Discuss with your child they can give a handshake, a wave, a fist bump or just say hello when greeting their relative. This says I want to share with you, and it’s my body that I am not comfortable sharing with you yet.

Talk to your relatives prior to them arriving, giving an explanation of your teachings to your child about body autonomy and ownership. This should help alleviate possible hurt feelings on their part. When the child does decide to show affection towards them, it will be much more meaningful than a forced hug or kiss from a hesitant child.

Teaching Consent

Teaching consent is just as important for a 2-year-old as for a 12-year-old. It’s never too early for kids to practice bodily autonomy. Any affection should be freely given. Adults should be able to handle any temporary hesitancy. The burden should never be placed on a child to make an adult feel better. It can be very confusing for a child to send mixed messages about body privacy and safety.

All our children need to learn is that it is acceptable to say ‘No’ to someone touching them. Parents are encouraged to support their children in creating safe boundaries. No reasoning needs to be offered; a No is a No.

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