What About Hugs and Kisses?
Can you imagine if another adult told us who to hug or kiss? That would be horrifying!
One of our recent blogs tackled the issue of young children and social graces. Many of our readers let us know that they were familiar with the dilemma of not knowing what to do when their young child does not return a greeting from a friend or relative. They acknowledged that it is tough to understand how our charming, chatty three or four-year-old can suddenly shut down when they find themselves in the social spotlight, but it happens a lot. Downplaying it in the moment, modeling good greeting behavior and revisiting the episode later in a quiet moment, usually helps break the pattern and soon kids step up to the “greeting” plate with a new comfort level. However, this topic did raise for readers the subject of hugging and kissing with family and friends.
My granddaughter, Almalou, began blowing kisses well before her first birthday. When I blew her a kiss and asked her to blow me a kiss, she quickly and happily complied and even practiced blowing kisses to herself in the mirror. Since it often happened during a goodbye, in person or on Facetime, she quickly made the connection that this was part of the sign-off ritual. Soon she began to blow kisses goodbye to the dog, her toys and then to passerby’s in the street that she noticed or had a brief exchange with.
Now that she is almost two years old, she has observed other rituals as the adults in her world often hug and kiss each other hello and goodbye. When she knows the person very well, her own response is to walk up close to them as they enter or leave, for a hug, as a way to join in the action. Of course, we all adore her sweet and affectionate impulses and give her hugs and kisses at every farewell.
She is clearly a star student of socialization, but it raises the question of what is the next important lesson to learn about these social interactions. For me, the question of when and who to hug and kiss is an important one. I find myself cringing when parents of children that I have only just met, instruct their young children to give me a hug or a kiss. Just like the dynamic with saying hello, some children will not comply, some will do so reluctantly with prodding and some will follow instructions on the first request.
So, why does this scenario make me so uncomfortable? Let’s start with the concept of respect. 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, it is 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!