What About Hugs and Kisses? Redux

What About Hugs and Kisses? Redux

A recent visit to a local bagel shop had me thinking a lot about a May 2017 post: What About Hugs and Kisses?

A family with two young children about the ages of three and four, were ahead of me in a long line waiting to order. The two children were loud and fidgety, demonstrating exactly what all of us were feeling..." we're hungry, and this is boring, when can we get our bagels and get out of here"?!

It happened that the children spied a gumball machine located on the premises and implored their father to get them a gumball. They were disappointed to hear that he didn't have the change needed but the kids basically accepted the news without complaint. A few minutes after this exchange took place, a man also waiting in the line approached the children and handed them each a quarter for the gumball machine. The children were surprised, and a little confused and immediately looked to their father to see what to make of this gesture. Their father without hesitation told them to thank the man and to give him a big hug. They did say thank you, but both recoiled until further prompting and then finally hugged the man.

As previously stated in the post aforementioned post, What About Hugs and Kisses " I firmly believe that children no matter what their age, should be treated with respect and that begins with respect for their personal space and bodies. As an adult, I can read the body language and unspoken cues that other adults give me about whether or not to hug them and even then, I often ask, “can I give you a hug?”. With children, as a matter of course, I always ask them if it is okay to give them a hug and then respect their answer without judgment. If they say no, I smile and say, "that's okay, how about a handshake?"

I remember when discussing “how to be a friend,” with a group of three and four-year-olds at circle time in my class, one child stated, “you could give your friend a hug.” Before I had time to respond, I was pleased that another child quickly added, “but you always have to ask first.”

Not only is it essential to teach children to respect the personal space of others, but it is also crucial that they are taught to respect their own bodies and personal space. We shouldn’t just give them choices about hugging and kissing; we should also make it clear that they do not need to follow requests or demands that they touch or be touched by others.

I realize that we are getting into some heavy territory here, but these early lessons that children learn about physical contact are an important foundation for helping them to understand physical boundaries. If you are a family like mine, that is demonstrative and comfortable with physical contact; your children most likely will be spontaneous in being affectionate with family and friends as well. But if they are not, parents and caregivers should not be instructing them to give hugs and kisses. Children should get to decide for themselves who they want to hug and kiss and who gets to hug and kiss them. And we all know how good those hugs and kisses are when they are genuine and sincere!"

As a teacher, I always taught my young students about the many ways that you can greet others; shaking hands, high-fiving, fist bumping or just a wave can work. Hugging people that you are close to is a great option as well, but never required. I think it important to revisit the question "what about hugs and kisses?" during the holidays when young children will be put on the spot to acknowledge friends at parties and visits to relatives.

While what I witnessed at the bagelry was good intentioned on the part of the adults involved, I think the message to the children was not a positive one, and it is important to be reminded that children's personal space should always be respected.

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