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.]