Should You Force Your Kids to Hug Relatives?

should you force your child to hug relatives

By Meera R. Corera

Sowmya Ramakrishnan remembers a paternal uncle who always pinched her cheeks every time he visited them. After meal times her uncle would insist Sowmya sit on his lap, but she would squirm uncomfortably. Almost always, her mother would jump in and excuse her – homework, playing with cousins etc. In retrospect, being a mother of two, Sowmya remembers that uneasy queasiness. Never had she seen her uncle harass or behave inappropriately and she attributes her anguished state to her strong sense of personal space. Now every time her toddler refuses to be picked up or hug a visitor, Sowmya doesn’t compel.

 

Some of us may brush this aside thinking children are too young to decide what personal space etc. are. We should also insist that they don’t bring this knowledge when it comes to family. But this simple act of hugging or kissing family elders conflicts our education that they do not talk or respond to strangers. This family member is as much a stranger to the kid as a stroller in a park. Before jumping the gun, let us understand why this creates a discord.

  • Personal space: Missing Children’s Network is an organization that conducts personal safety workshops to children of all ages. In their research they highlight let him/her decide the physical proximity with which he/she is comfortable. Your child will gradually learn to trust their instincts and to identify the body signals that warn them to avoid any situation or person that makes them uncomfortable, embarrassed or scared. Teaching your child and respecting their physical and personal boundaries is very crucial for them to develop this instinct.
  • Physical autonomy: Reena Jagwani says that it is important for children to feel completely in control of their body. Invading this territory is akin to abuse. Therefore, when her tween son refuses to hug a relative, Reena quickly distracts and dissolves the situation. She never resorts to imposing her son on the basis of good manners. Even when they are visiting friends/family, Reena insists he thank the host for the food and their hospitality. This way not only is she teaching her son the power of words but also giving him absolute power over his body all the while seeking alternative ways to show affection.
  • Power of consent: As parents and primarily mothers, since are often the primary care-takers, we are trapezing the slippery slope of consent. I’m guilty of getting my kids vaccinated even though they dread needles, we have weekly meals that include spinach, beets and broccoli which are not their first choice of vegetables. While we as moms assuage ourselves with “Mommy-knows-best” approach, when it comes to the power of consent for physical intimacy it is best to throw this rule outside the window and let your child decide. Respecting their consent acknowledges the fact that danger can lurk within the family circle and their body belongs only to them. Every time we have a visitor, we let our kids decide what and how they want to engage with them. By respecting their instincts, mood and boundaries we are teaching kids an early lesson on consent which will intensify as they grow.

Teaching consent, boundaries and bad touch are essential for toddlers as well as teenagers. Ignoring and railroading them to display intimacy with a friend or relative does more harm then good. Therefore, resort to other tactics like hi-fives, fist bumps or even mock salutes.

Respecting their discomfort earns their trust and solidifies their sense of personal space. This is essential for kids to understand their body signals and helps them from being vulnerable to abuse or exploitation.


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