Hey, I don't really want to hug her, either.
December 29, 2011 4:25 AM   Subscribe

Unwilling toddlers and forced social interactions with adults: is it OK to instruct your child to (for instance) hug Great-Aunt Maisie, when she'd prefer not to?

As my 2.5-year-old daughter has advanced into the toddler years, I've increasingly marvelled at the pressure other adults place on young kids to engage with them socially. Sometimes we're talking low-level interactions like saying "Hi" back to the checkout lady, but during this last month of holiday visiting, my daughter has also been expected to give out hugs and sit still for cheek kisses from various funny-smelling old people, to sit close by random uncles when opening gifts, to ride on Great-Grandma's lap in her wheelchair at the nursing home, etc., etc. I understand the grown-up impulse to want to cuddle, touch, and otherwise make much of a small child in a ruffly dress; but I also sort of resent people's placing pressure on a toddler to accord them unearned physical and social intimacy, often to a degree that'd never be expected of an adult. I also feel-- perhaps mistakenly?-- that people demand much more of this sort of interaction from girls than they would from boys.

I'm wondering how other parents have struck a balance between teaching kids to be polite and to interact effectively in social situations-- and not to hurt the feelings of elderly, lonely relatives-- while still raising children who are capable of setting their own boundaries when appropriate. I think I tend to default to supporting the wishes of the adult-- "Go ahead, give Grandma a hug, sweetie!"-- and my daughter (who's a shy, quiet, obedient type) generally complies without comment; but the look of passive discomfort on her face makes me worry that I might somehow be creating a pattern of placing others' demands over her own feelings. On the other hand, as an introvert myself, it's been my experience that that's kind of what socializing is: a long series of uncomfortable and tiresome interactions that you submit to because other people seem to expect it. I'd just like to be sure I can get my daughter to the point of dinner-party proficiency while stopping short of making her a future doormat or victim.

If anybody has a good set of rules to follow in these circumstances, I'd love to hear about it. Parental strategies for politely deflecting other people's advances, when necessary, would also be most welcome. Thanks!

[Oh, and just to clarify, I'm of course not talking about interactions that are legitimately inappropriate or dangerous here; no caresses from random strangers on the bus, absolutely unsupervised time with distant relatives of either sex. Just wondering how far to permit or promote the everyday, safe, yet impertinent intimacies that people seem to feel they have a right to expect from your average adorable toddler.]
posted by Bardolph to Human Relations (46 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
It seems that the very simple answer to this is that it is certainly possible to "be polite" while saying "no" (either you or the child).

I believe that children will find (and express) their level of comfort in any social/physical situation, it is your job as a parent to help the child learn how to express that in a socially acceptable, caring manner, not to discount or negate the feelings the child has.

If those adults with whom the child is uncomfortable do not understand this, it is not your problem, you've done the right thing.
posted by tomswift at 4:35 AM on December 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


And... (I hate it when the thought comes AFTER the "post answer" button is engaged!), don't over think your response, all it really needs to be is something like "It doesn't look like she wants a hug right now.", you don't need to explain why. That other adult, should be able to smile and respond with a "I guess she doesn't!" without personalizing it and becoming offended, if they can't there are issues beyond your control.
posted by tomswift at 4:40 AM on December 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Go ahead, give Grandma a hug, sweetie!"

What about "How about we give Grandma a wave and maybe there will be a hug later?" Because yeah, I realise we have about 900 years of social norms behind us, but I actually do think it is really problematic to repeatedly teach children that they lack physical agency and that submitting to the physical wishes of more powerful people is what's expected and how we "make nice." I would worry less about her being a doormat or victim and more about her being comfortable drawing boundaries in future physical partner negotiations. It's hard enough for even the most fiercely socialised girls to be confident in saying No.

You can teach her that she has to be friendly and polite (give greetings, say goodbye, say please and thank you) without teaching her that everyone gets to touch her.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:43 AM on December 29, 2011 [56 favorites]


I think your instincts to not force your child to hug if she doesn't want to are right on. My son is a little younger, but he still has preferences about who gets to hold and cuddle him. I just tell the other adults that it takes him a while to warm up to new people and we can try again later. I never force him to go to someone when he doesn't want to.
posted by chiababe at 4:52 AM on December 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I never made my kids do anything physical they didn't want to. They're their bodies, not mine. This is doubly true for those on-the-spot requests. Kind & warm words and smiles, yes, but no forced hugs or lap-sitting.

And deflecting the request is easy. When uncle says "come and sit on my lap, junior" you can gauge junior's discomfort and say "oh look junior, uncle is opening his present! Lets watch him!" Just deflect while being the one in charge. You're saying "don't worry kid, i've got your back" without saying "sorry uncle, but she thinks you're creepy" or the dreaded, blaming "junior is shy" (ugh!)

Whenever possible, talk to junior beforehand and say "grandma will be there, you dont remember her because she lives far away and you were just a baby when we saw her last, but she loves you a lot and her favorite thing to do is read stories. Maybe you can sit with her and read one!" That way the kid isn't blindsided when stranger-relative insists on a cuddle.
posted by headnsouth at 5:15 AM on December 29, 2011 [10 favorites]


I think it's fine to instruct your child to say 'Hi, Great-Aunt Maisie' and maybe wave or shake hands, but that forcing them to hug or kiss is a bad idea for the reasons mentioned by earlier posters. (I'm not a parent, but I remember being coerced as an older child to hug and kiss my parents on the lips when I really would have perferred not to.)
posted by rjs at 5:18 AM on December 29, 2011


You can also certainly say to adults something like, "She takes some time to warm up, we do high-fives until she decides it's hug time." We do a lot of high-fives, which are cute, and seem to be a lot easier at this age than either hugs or talking.

Have you tried talking to your daughter in advance about who these people are and what they will want? 2.5 is old enough to understand a great deal of prep-talk and to feel reassured by knowing what's coming. "Great-grandma is mommy's grandma, and she has to sit in a wheelchair because she doesn't walk very well. She doesn't get to see you very often but she loves you very much. She might want to give you a ride in her wheelchair, which might be fun. But you can walk instead if you want to."

We made sure in the week leading up to holiday visits, we told my son (also 2.5) all the people who would be there -- like, "Uncle Joe, who sent you your favorite blocks for your birthday!" (my brother whom he hadn't seen recently enough to remember) and "Uncle Joe's good friend Jane" (his serious girlfriend, who was new). And what things we would do -- sleep in a strange place, which he hates, and what the strange place would be like; not touch grandma's Christmas tree; etc. Anyway, by the time we arrived, he was really excited to see all the people we'd been talking about. He was MORE excited to see grandma and grandpa, whom he knows pretty well, but he was also very excited to see Uncle Joe (half-forgotten) and Jane (whom he'd never met). We said, "This is Jane" and he said "JANE!" and ran over to hug her legs because he knew who she was so it wasn't so scary.

2.5 is a little young to worry about social niceties, honestly. I mean, yeah, you already want to be working on "hello" and "goodbye" and "please" and "thank-you" but I don't think you have to worry that being too shy to hug strange relatives at this age is going to lead to a lifetime of standoffishness.

Specifically with lonely, elderly relatives, where I very much understand the impulse to want your child to show some affection, you could do things like, "I'm going to give great-grandma a hug! Now do you want to give great-grandma a hug?" or "Should we give great-grandma a hug together?" or "SANDWICH KISS!" Something where you're participating together so she doesn't feel quite so on-the-spot or scared. (Also, mine does this thing where he'll stand at the knees of anybody sitting down to read a book with them, and then as he warms up, he'll lean all over their knees, and then he'll want to climb up in their lap. So picture books might be another good tool.)

Also, typing this, I realized that even though my older kid is super-outgoing, I always phrase it as a question: "Would you like to give grandma a hug?" "Would you like to give Mr. Stan a high-five?" And if he gets shy, I just say, "I guess not right now!" to the adult, and then to my toddler something like, "Did you know Mr. Stan drives a GREEN truck?" And then my toddler's face lights up and he says, "Gween twuck?" which at least sometimes gets him to talk adorable toddler-ese to someone, and sometimes warms him up because, dude, truck.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:32 AM on December 29, 2011 [36 favorites]


I think that if you make an effort and shrug/'she's shy', that's all you need.
posted by k8t at 5:41 AM on December 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah I usually ask my son to give people hugs, but if he says no, we ask for high fives or fist bumps, and if those are rejected we try for a wave or saying hi. Usually one works, he acknowledges the person, but gets to stay in his comfort zone (my son is also 2.5) for that moment. He will later often give out hugs to people he wouldn't on the first go around, just depends on his mood.
posted by katers890 at 5:42 AM on December 29, 2011


my daughter's nearly 2 & she definitely knows her own mind (which is a polite way of saying there's no way in hell i'd get her to be compliant in giving great-great aunt joyce a hug if she didn't feel like it) -- so when the older folks start swooping in & Toddler Oh Really is clearly feeling uncomfortable (& expressing it loudly!), i will intervene by saying something like, "why don't you give aunt joyce a high-five instead?" i figure that even though she's quite adept at saying no (or, more likely, yelling it multiple times), she needs to know that i've got her back.


or, as usual, Eyebrows McGee says what i want to say way better.
posted by oh really at 5:49 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


"This would be a good time to give Aunt Sue a hug. Maybe you can do that when you feel less shy."

Something along these lines conveys: a) the lesson about what is usually done in this situation; b) that you are trying to teach manners; c) that you understand Aunt Sue's needs and expectations as well as the reality of your shy child's feelings but that also d) deflects the adult's expectations and protects your child when she feels vulnerable.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:59 AM on December 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Feeling shy and feeling creeped out are not the same thing. Please do not label your kids' unspoken emotions for them. Unless you want them to 'learn to overcome feeling creeped out by that creepy uncle.'

Otherwise, advice here is really good. Let kids choose their level of physical interaction with other people. Also make sure they know how to back out of a physical interaction. Asking to get out of a lap, disengage from a hug, etc. they need to learn that a course of action is reversible. (you can see how this is the groundwork for later, I hope.)
posted by bilabial at 6:18 AM on December 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


As a child who has memories of being told to hug people who I didn't want to hug, don't make your kids do this. If they want to, they can, if not, just say the kid is shy if others have the nerve to ask.

(Or you could be more blunt... "Why does Bobby want to hug me?" "Grandma, you smell like death.")
posted by Brian Puccio at 6:29 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Without reading all the above (sorry, should really be working yet I'm on the green, ahhh!), a friend facebook-linked to this article on that very topic in the leadup to christmas; it may interest you: http://www.doingrightbyourkids.com/2011/12/12/no-forced-kisses-for-your-kids-a-holiday-safety-tip-for-families/
posted by springbound at 6:34 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


As a foster mom, I have little ones come into my home who are frightened and have been abused. We work very hard to teach them that they have a right to feel safe in their own body. It can be a challenge to teach a little one that cuddling and hugs are OK while also teaching that they can say "No" and have that respected. It is a trust thing, for sure. Depending on the child and their abuse history, we will go so far as to ask permission from the child before trying to hug them. If they say "No", we just say "ok" and move on. It surprises them but they quickly clue in that they can have a say in how they are treated and where their physical boundaries reside. My youngest took the most work. When that one gives a hug, it is because trust has been established and the hug really means something for that child.

We do require our children to be polite. If another person says "Hello", it is polite to say "Hello" back and to not hide behind my legs. If another person requests a hug, we turn to the child and say "Do you want to hug (Name)?" If the child hesitates or indicates a negative reaction, we say "It is OK to say 'No'" and then look for another interaction they can engage in such as "Please say 'Good bye and thank you'." We've taken this same approach with our birth child as well.

There was a situation once where my Mother-in-law was giving out hugs at the end of a visit this summer. She turned to my little one (now adopted YAY!) and asked for a hug. Little one said "No." and climbed into the car. My MiL turned to me to grouse that she'd not received any hugs that visit. I pointed out that the child had offered hugs at a point she felt was inconvenient. She turned the child down and the child remembered. "You take them when you can get them even if you don't think it is convenient. Kiddo doesn't owe you or anyone a hug." At the next visit, kiddo offered a hug, MiL took it right away.

You can teach your daughter to say "No, thanks." when the hug request comes in and she's uncomfortable with it. It is a good thing to teach the child that she has a right to say "No" and to have that respected. Just because an adult wants to touch her doesn't mean the adult has the right to no matter the relationship and no matter how cute your daughter is. If she's uncomfortable with it, she's uncomfortable and her wishes should also be respected. Seriously consider letting your daughter say "No" and teaching her that her boundaries are worth respecting.
posted by onhazier at 6:41 AM on December 29, 2011 [25 favorites]


Lots of good answers here! My one addition would be instead of high-fiving or fist bumps, which are not familiar or comfortable to many older people, we offer "warm handshakes." Practice beforehand, and explain that it's how grownups often meet each other. Offering a handshake allows a kid to retain their dignity, and act like a grownup -- always a plus. It's also turning out to be a very good way to say hello and goodbye to other people's teenagers. Instead of awkward "Give Auntie a hug" moments, the teenagers and I just grin and shake hands; it's something the two of us have worked out over the years (and then sometimes I get a hug, too).

Judging from the number of limp handshakes I get as an adult, there's not much instruction How To Shake Hands out there.
posted by kestralwing at 7:14 AM on December 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


I also feel-- perhaps mistakenly?-- that people demand much more of this sort of interaction from girls than they would from boys.

You're not mistaken about that.
posted by mhoye at 7:25 AM on December 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


My ex comes from a family where his grandfather was a child molester. The adults in the family covered for him while he molested all his grandchildren and who knows who else. They insist that children hug on demand. They insist on complete obedience from children.

I know this is an extreme example but it is an important one. A child that is raised to believe that adults have absolute authority are not able to protect themselves from abuse. Follow your instincts and teach your child to say no. She is not a puppy. She is not a stuffed animal. She has the right to sit quietly in a room and not have anyone touch her, if that is her wish.

Children have different personalities. My son has always been extremely outgoing. He would talk to anyone, invite them into our home, try to go into there home (I watched him very closely) but he wasn't really big on hugs. My middle child doesn't want to be touched at all (except for cuddles from me and her brother and sister) and she will very confidently tell people no when the demand a hug and walk away. The littlest one is my shy one but she will hug anyone and everyone, including the waitress that brings her extra ketchup.

Everyone is different. Your responsibility is to parent your child and to nurture your child's needs and personality. Don't give in to pressure from others. You know what is right for your child.
posted by myselfasme at 7:27 AM on December 29, 2011 [8 favorites]


I guess I'm in the other boat on this one. I expect my two to hug family members. They don't have to enjoy it, but it's a respect thing.

Now if a stranger wants a hug that's a no, but uncles to great grandmas all deserve a hug, I believe it shows respects.

Around 2 it was difficult and they didn't really want to, but they never got in trouble. We explained to them why it was important and how happy it made great grandma that she gets a hug from you. Now they know proper protocol and I do not have to ask them to hug. They know boundaries and they know who's ok to hug and who's not.

I grew up being required to hug and give a peck on the cheek to family an it cost no lasting damage to me. My kids seem well adjusted and they know how to show respect to elders.
posted by Sweetmag at 7:29 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nthing onhazier; I ask my friends' kids directly if I can hug them. Once I asked a little girl if she wanted to sit on my lap while I told her a story, she said no, but leaned against me as I read to her.
posted by brujita at 7:42 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not a parent, but I am an aunt and great-aunt, and a former shy-kid myself. Can't say I *hated* having to hug various relatives, but yeah, there were plenty of times I'd have preferred not to. So, keeping in mind my own childhood preferences, I've made it a rule to never grab or hug any kid that doesn't come to me first: I shake hands with them, which the kids all think is somewhere between hilarious and ever-so-grownup.

(I've always thought of greeting small children as similar to greeting strange cats: you wouldn't just grab somebody's cat and start hugging and cuddling it, would you? Not without getting some major objections, usually emphasized with claws & teeth! You meet a new cat slowly, by letting it come to you --- it works with cats and kids!)
posted by easily confused at 7:49 AM on December 29, 2011 [10 favorites]


I have always found the pressure on very young children to dole out affection on command to be boundary-crossing and disrespectful at best. There is a big difference between telling a child to disregard his/her own discomfort and sense of personal space and ASKING a child if he or she would like to give so-and-so a hug, kiss, or high five. Sometimes this prompts an action that the kidlet might feel positively about but not initiated without reminding, and sometimes this gets a no.

Particularly at toddler age, they are just learning to assert the dividing lines between themselves and others (recognize the "mine" phase?), and need to feel safe navigating relationships with people much bigger than them, who have an assumed authority, and safe *saying no* and protecting their boundaries. I respect a parent who asks much more than a parent who orders, and I personally always ask any kid I encounter in a hugging scenario if I can give them a hug. Any reaction to a kidlet's no from the intended recipient that is not along the lines of "You don't feel like it right now? Oh, that's ok, maybe another time!" is the marker of a self-absorbed jerkface.

On preview: onhazier a billion, particularly the last paragraph.
posted by tigerbelly at 8:36 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Seconding myselfasme. My own experience was a lot less nasty but I essentially learned as a child that my preferences as to physical contact came second to everyone else's. I would never have been given permission to reject an advance politely, even if I had thought to ask for it. That is a setup for abuse.

I am in the process of unlearning this behavior and it's been a real freedom.

Bonus points: if you give yourself the freedom to reject unwanted physical advances, you'll be more easily able to accept (or at least tolerate) the random, well-intentioned hug that comes your way without much fuss. If you know you have a way out, you can take it... or not.

On preview, I like easily confused's comparison between cats & kids, too.
posted by Currer Belfry at 8:41 AM on December 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


My granddaughter is shy, but she warms up to people after she feels comfortable with them. So I would just say, "she's shy, but give her a chance to warm up to you." Last time I saw her, I didn't expect a hug, I just said, "hi!" And then I started talking to her. After a while, she found out that I was willing to a) play Chutes and Ladders with her and b) get her more dip for her chips and we got along famously. Pretty soon she was jumping on Grandpa's lap and hanging all over us. I definitely wouldn't push her to do anything she doesn't want to tho'.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 8:56 AM on December 29, 2011


Women in our society are socialized from birth to believe that our bodies, at least in part, exist to please everyone else in the world. That includes not only the abhorrent insistence that we be aesthetically pleasing, but also a belief that other people have the right to touch us when we'd rather they not. I view forced physical affection by female children towards adult relatives as part of the same continuum that also includes "Hi, Watcha reading?" I am in no way saying that Great Aunt Ruth is trying to sexually harass your daughter when she demands a hug. But I am saying that such interactions are part of a sick system that teaches women and girls that we don't get full autonomy over our own bodies and that reinforces for the rest of society that women and girls who insist on such autonomy are being bitches and should be required to submit to the wishes of others.

You don't need to make every interaction with long-lost relatives into a political teaching moment about power and privilege. But you can use this as just one of many ways to show your daughter that her wants and feelings, especially about her own body, matter just as much as anyone else's, and that she has the right, even as a child, to have those wants and feelings respected. That's such a wonderful gift that you can give her, to show her that she matters by asking other adults in her life to take her seriously. Thank you so much for giving that to her.
posted by decathecting at 9:00 AM on December 29, 2011 [36 favorites]


I have miserable memories of being forced to hug relatives as a little kid. I was always very tiny for my age, so it lasted longer than I think it lasts for most girls, because I seemed much younger than I was due to my size.

Sometimes, I would give the hug and maybe whine a little. But I eventually figured out that the best way to make adults not want to touch me, if I was really not in the mood to be touched, was to throw an impressive tantrum. This strategy worked until buck teeth, glasses, and boy-cut hair made me uncute enough that no one really wanted a hug anyway, around age 8. So, I'm sure there were other forces at work, but being forced into hugging people at least partially turned me into a very disagreeable child who screamed at anyone who looked like he wanted a hug.


I'm 30 now and I am still not a hugging person, and also still very disagreeable.
posted by millipede at 9:04 AM on December 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just coming back to this to ask that you please, please do not say "oh she's just shy" as the reason she doesn't want to give grandma a hug or sit on stranger-uncle's lap. A lot of people have suggested that, but it really undermines the child's ability to trust her own judgment.

Saying "she's shy" gets you off the hook but it shames the child. You are saying that the reason she doesn't want to sit on stranger-uncle's lap is because there is something wrong with her.

Teach children to trust their instincts, not to feel conspicuous and wrong because of them.
posted by headnsouth at 9:10 AM on December 29, 2011 [9 favorites]


(which is, to say, I think it would be best for your daughter to not make her hug anyone).
posted by millipede at 9:10 AM on December 29, 2011


With our kid, whenever we got the "Give auntie a hug!" stuff, we'd turn to her and say "Is that OK?" If she didn't want to, we'd tell her "That's OK, you don't have to hug anyone you don't want to," and leave the grownup to figure out that it wasn't happening. The adults very quickly morphed to "Lily, can I get a hug?" or "Would you like a kiss?" or whatever, which then left her free to answer as she saw fit.

Fortunately most of the family are pretty hip to respecting the needs of a kid, so they got what we were doing and were on board with it. The one time someone was resistant and kind of pouty, I took them aside and said "Look, if I teach her now she has to hug and kiss anyone who wants her to, even if she's uncomfortable, what's she going to do when she's sixteen?" That drove the point home.
posted by KathrynT at 9:36 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just wanted to say that I don't know that it's an evil conspiracy toward young girls. My son was a baby and had stranger anxiety and my brother grabbed him out of my arms. I still have a horrible image of him reaching out to me over my brother's shoulder. He told me he had to toughen up (8 months old). My brother is not evil and he gets along extremely well with young people of all ages, and indeed was able to distract him and he was fine. Just saying that it goes both ways. I remember sitting on a porch when I was little, at a huge family reunion, and the Great Aunties pinching my cheeks. But no one ever forced a hug on me. We're just not big huggers, I guess. Unless someone offers. I guess that's why I can't imagine someone forcing a hug on me or why the polite "she or he is shy" is offending. Because it's true. My granddaughter IS shy with people she doesn't know. But not me: I used to fling open the door to the mail man, wearing my petticoats (as I was pretending to be a ballerina at the time) and say, "Come on in!" My mom had to stop me from being too friendly to people.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 9:53 AM on December 29, 2011


This is about your boundaries first, and I really really sympathize here.

Yes, I agree more is expected of girls by the toddler stage, and it's a type of socialization that teaches us (I'm female) to be "pleasers" - and I can't think of all the good words I really want to use here, but you get my drift.

Come up with some stock phrases to deflect these well meaning adults and practice them so they spring to mind easily when the time comes.

My young first child is super cute (all little ones are irresistable!!) and I'm learning this very lesson right now.
posted by jbenben at 10:14 AM on December 29, 2011


We have a simple rule. My 5 year old is required to say hello or other appropriate words of greeting. Shaking hands is also something he is not permitted to refuse. Beyond that, it's up to him. I explain this rule to any adults who want something more. So far, it seems to be working fine. We've been doing this for about 2 years now.
posted by bardophile at 10:54 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


We had a child psychologist speak to our MOPS group once. She also assisted police in cases where children were victimized.

She told us that we should never force our children to give Aunt Mildred a kiss, or to let Uncle Jimmy play the tickling game. She said that it sets a bad precedent in terms of a child feeling like they can't say "No" to an adult that wants to touch them. The kiss from Aunt mildred and the tickles from Uncle Jimmy may be totally innocent, of course, but parents should respect a child's wishes rather than to force the interaction. A wave or a smile should suffice.
posted by Ostara at 11:25 AM on December 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I expect my two to hug family members. They don't have to enjoy it, but it's a respect thing.

I respectfully disagree with sweetmag.

An adult would never be considered disrespectful for not hugging or kissing another adult; why should a child be held to a higher level of intimacy? How can children understand the complexity of who is and who is not allowed to touch them (and in what circumstances) if there is an implication that a full embrace is conferred not by their own comfort level, but by another person's familial relationship to them? Physical affection is NOT a sign of respect.

A small child (with a small vocabulary) might be given the choice to hug, blow a kiss, shake hands or wave. A pre-schooler with a vocabulary large enough to understand instructions should be taught how to shake hands -- a handshake always implies respect, which, in some circles, a fist bump or high five does not. A cheerful smile and polite verbal greeting, along with an enthusiastic offer of a handshake, should be all that's required for anyone four years old and up.

[As I'm writing this, I realize there may be cultural differences at play. My opinions are based on my suburban, North American background.]
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 11:52 AM on December 29, 2011 [10 favorites]


On the other hand, as an introvert myself, it's been my experience that that's kind of what socializing is: a long series of uncomfortable and tiresome interactions that you submit to because other people seem to expect it.

What makes you think the kid is not picking up on this?!
posted by rhizome at 11:58 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Lots of good advice above, especially Eyebrows McGee's comment. I'll also say that as a childless adult, I really, really appreciate having been on the receiving end of those strategies. My husband's nieces are always well-prepped to be excited to see us, and my friends with toddlers are good about guiding their kids into options for affection that are comfortable for everyone.
posted by desuetude at 12:12 PM on December 29, 2011


I tell people that my two boys (6 & 3) are in charge of their own bodies* and get to decide who they want to hug and kiss. I say this in front of my kids, and I also sometimes prep them in advance of large gatherings. I especially relish saying this to the (two) relatives who were most disrespectful of my boundaries when I was a child. Practice managing your own discomfort if your kids hug and kiss a few people but not others. It's a useful skill in general with kids.

* This also has useful implications when they start hitting each other or picking on the other to get ready faster: "Hey, you're in charge of your body, not your brother's. Please stop hitting/get yourself ready."
posted by cocoagirl at 12:28 PM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


You know what's extra super cute when little kids do it?

Hand-shaking.


Also, you might be surprised by the number of adults who don't particularly want to have a snotty, slobbery toddler latched to them for even the briefest of moments.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:33 PM on December 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


My SIL prompts my neice to hug me goodbye and it turns into a big thing because she's 3 and just doesn't want to.

You can take control of the situation by getting down on your niece's level and saying something like "Ginger, would you like to shake hands goodbye instead?"
posted by DarlingBri at 12:52 PM on December 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


My sister-in-law has disciplined her son for not hugging and kissing us goodbye. It's awful for everyone.

We settled on the "she will give you a hug when she wants to, she's just getting used to the house and new people". We don't force hugs or kisses and we make that clear i n how we talk with her - when someone asks, or tries, and she runs away or cries we tell her "it's okay, you never have to hug people if you don't want to" which sends a message to her and the other person. You may then get into a protective behaviours vs. 'politeness' argument, btu I am willing to do that for my child and I always hope it sticks.
posted by geek anachronism at 1:39 PM on December 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I still think the kid is being taught to behave this way, even if indirectly. Oh, but let's protect the child from Great-grandma's selfish and weird-smelling desire to have one of her youngest descendants ride on her lap.

I speak as someone who was allowed to exert a preference not to interact with adults as a child. Funnily enough, in my case it wound up becoming a preference not to interact with anybody once everybody I knew magically turned into adults.
posted by rhizome at 2:11 PM on December 29, 2011


Rhizome, there's a different between teaching the child to interact with adults and forcing the child into undesired physical contact.

Asking the child to be polite or to show respect by saying "Hello", "Thank you", and "Good bye" will teach the child that they need to interact with people. If the adult asks the child questions and tries to engage the child in conversation, the parent can encourage the interaction by asking the child to respond appropriately. For example, the adult can say something like "What grade are you in now? How is school going? What is your favorite activity/ thing to read/ subject in school?" For a toddler, the adult can still try to engage the child by asking the child "How old are you? What is your favorite color? Can you help me say the ABC's?"

The purpose for the interactions should be to get to know the child as you would any new or rarely seen acquaintance. The purpose of the child's visit is NOT to let the adults squeeze and hug all over them. From the child's perspective, they're being confined by someone they don't yet know and trust.

If the adults would look at these interactions as opportunities to build new relationships, they may realize that they would never act this way with a newly met 10 year old, 20 year old or 50 year old. Just because the child is 2 does not give the adults permission to assume the child already or inherently trusts them and wants to be hugged.

Great-grandma's desire to have the little one ride on her lap is selfish. It is about Great-Grandma having a whim satisfied and it is not about Great-Grandma establishing a relationship with a new person.
posted by onhazier at 4:54 PM on December 29, 2011


You can teach your daughter to say "No, thanks." when the hug request comes in and she's uncomfortable with it. It is a good thing to teach the child that she has a right to say "No" and to have that respected. Just because an adult wants to touch her doesn't mean the adult has the right to no matter the relationship and no matter how cute your daughter is. If she's uncomfortable with it, she's uncomfortable and her wishes should also be respected. Seriously consider letting your daughter say "No" and teaching her that her boundaries are worth respecting.

Can't be favorited enough.

[As I'm writing this, I realize there may be cultural differences at play. My opinions are based on my suburban, North American background.]

Well, in my unpleasant childhood experiences, there was this whole, "go on, give X some sugar" thing which caused me to be forced to submit to brief physical contact with an adult who more often than not was drunk and reeking of alcohol. I've always assumed it was a Southern thing because I only experienced it with people in/from the South.
posted by fuse theorem at 5:38 PM on December 29, 2011


SO thankful I didn't force my son to give hugs when he didn't want to (and he so very rarely wanted to...)

Turns out he's an Aspie, and even the most innocent of touches or hugs were all kinds of misery for him. He's learned to relax around people, and even welcome hugs from people he knows well, but I don't think we'd have gotten to this place if he'd been forced to be on the defensive all the time. Learning to recognize and honor his own feelings, and to make them known in a quiet, acceptable way: one of the hardest and most important skills we've helped him learn.
posted by theplotchickens at 7:45 PM on December 29, 2011


I realize there may be cultural differences at play.

Certainly, there are some cultural differences at play. The tack I take is considered pretty unusual in Pakistan. However, I've discovered something interesting. a) Pakistani relatives, despite a culture that is much more geared towards hugging, even among adults who don't necessarily know each other very well, are perfectly willing to accept my explanation that we demand courtesy from the child, not affection. b) The vast majority of Pakistani adults understand that kids need space and time to figure out whether they want to be affectionate.
posted by bardophile at 9:19 PM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


As an adult, I ask kids if I can have a hug. If not, cool. Blow kisses or wave or something.

I remember being told to hug my grandpa and grandma (my dad's parents). My grandpa had had a stroke and it kind of freaked me out a little. He passed away when I was 8. My grandma is now 93 and if I start to leave she jumps up and says "don't I get a hug?" (In a sad and pathetic way, not a playful way.) I know she's lonely, but it still makes me cringe, because I still don't want to hug her. But I do it anyways. (We were never close and besides, she says mean things about my mom behind her back.)

Even my favorite aunt - I mean, I really really adore this aunt - at my cousin's wedding, when I was about 22, suddenly kissed me on the lips out of nowhere. I didn't like it and was upset by it for quite a while.
posted by IndigoRain at 2:17 PM on December 31, 2011


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