“You Don’t Have to Kiss Grandma”

Thanksgiving is only three days away, whoot whoot! What are you doing for the holiday? My dad and aunt are coming to visit, and we’re going to our friends’ house for Thanksgiving dinner.

At a typical family gathering, little kids like Toby and Anton would be scooped up and kissed and hugged and tickled. And that’s playful and wonderful (and usually they love it)—but what if a child doesn’t want to be? Last year I read an eye-opening post encouraging parents not to force a child to hug or kiss anybody. At first I thought it was over the top, but I’ve thought about it countless times since then. If your child doesn’t want to kiss every relative, that should be completely fine, right? They’re teeny, but they still have a choice. To be polite, they can always wave, shake hands or give high-fives instead. Caroline was telling me how she dreaded family gatherings as a child because of the barrage of slobbery kisses—I totally get that now!

These things seem small, but little things can make a big difference. I think it’s so important to show children that we respect their minds and bodies and to start teaching consent.

What do you think? I’d love to hear!

P.S. Six words to say to your child, and do you kiss your babies on the mouth?

  1. Kelly says...

    I also dreaded the kisses hello and goodbye as a child (I still do) but I would have done it anyway, because I would have hated to hurt anyone’s feelings. I don’t think my parents forced me to, it was just a social expectation that I felt compelled by. Kids will have to deal with social expectations no matter how their parents intervene. Sensitive shy little kids are always going to stress out about it. Power to those recalcitrant little delights who see no issue with upsetting Grandma… Or maybe those are just the kids who NEED a lesson in tact and social sensitivity?

  2. Ah – I come from Malaysia, and this happens a lot during large gatherings of family and friends. Sometimes they would even carry or take your child off you without asking. They do it with the best of intentions of course, but it feels no less overwhelming, and my 7 mo doesn’t enjoy it one bit. I wouldn’t impose myself on my or anyone else’s child – and while I do believe in the importance of being polite, they shouldn’t feel obligated to hug, kiss or be carried by someone they’re not comfortable of familiar with. And I agree – while respecting a child’s space and decision might seem like a small thing to most of us, it means a whole lot to them!


  3. I too feel a little extreme, but have decided to embrace what I feel in my gut is the best policy to teach my kids about personal space and consent, even if it offends their great aunts! I don’t even make or try to persuade my kids to taste anything they don’t want to, because I truly believe they should have complete say over their bodies.

  4. I work in the arts and everyone kisses – it drives me crazy as I would rather shake hands, at least until they recognise me enough to say hi on the street. A kiss on first meeting – tad quick for me.
    I have a son who is not very touchy feely! Girls at daycare always want to hug him, kiss him and people laugh and don’t care that he does not consent… yet in a few years they will expect him to understand what no means in relation to those same girls – no means no, regardless of how old you are, or what your gender is. It is about respect.
    We ask my son to high-five. We ask him to say hello, good bye, thank you etc, but kissing, you have to earn that sort love, and that takes time, interest and friendship.

  5. This is very smart Joanna. It teaches them to be in charge of their own bodies from an early age.

  6. I’ve been the aunt whose goodbye hugs were denied by one of my nephews. We usually did fist bumps instead. I would much rather have a willing goodbye than a forced hug. Now I get hugs when I see him and airhugs over the phone. Too many children are abused by relatives. It is as important for parents to teach their children how to say no respectfully as it is how to be polite, whatever that looks like in their culture. My mom always explained to us what she expected of us and why before we went to family gatherings, and I think it helped us immensely.

  7. Kissing is not the only way to say hello and goodbye I think. I would like to teach my (someday) children to always greet others, but in what way would be of less importance to me. My sister-in-law will ask her (young) kids to give a kiss or a high five to the family members. That way they don’t have to say no but can simply choose and there are no awkward situations. I’m going to remember that!

  8. I think one has to take culture into consideration. It looks like many people have commented about how different things are internationally. In Peru, where my husband is from, a barely-there kiss or two on the cheek is the standard greeting and goodbye for almost everyone. It’s pretty much the same as a handshake here (though some men simply shake hands with other men.) Even here, this is how I great our Peruvian and other South American friends. I plan to teach my children to follow my guidance as to how to greet and say goodbye to our friends and family, until they learn how to decide on their own, in the same way they’ll learn when to use Spanish and when to use English. As for our American family and friends, I think our children should learn to show affection, but in a way that they choose, as long as it is respectful.

  9. I was talking about this with a friend just the other day – I hadn’t thought about it before that but it really got me thinking. I vividly remember being told to kiss people good night and feeling VERY uncomfortable doing so with one man in particular; I wouldn’t want my own (impending) child to feel that discomfort and I definitely don’t want her/him feeling that physical contact is good manners.

  10. I have to say, I disagree with this. If you come from a family where hugging and kissing is the norm and is done with good will and love, it is important that the child learns to be part of this. I think knowing that you give your ancient great aunt a quick peck out of respect for her and love for the family that you are part of is more important than what you want personally as a child.

  11. When I was younger I went through a phase from about age 3 – 5 where I had a ‘kiss bank’ (as my mum called it) – sometimes I would tell relatives that I had run out of kisses or hugs so they couldn’t have one at the moment. Mum says that at first a lot of people were offended and asked her what was wrong with me and she told them it was up to me who I wanted to kiss and hug. After a while people offered to give me a hug in exchange for a hug and a kiss for a kiss – apparently this was okay with my 3 year old self!

    I think ultimately it was great for my mum to give me, as a child, the option to make my own decision about my body and if my children ever said no to kiss I would stand up for them!

  12. I was 8 years old on my first remembered visit to the Philippines and one of my older cousins there would insist on having me sit in his lap whenever I saw him. I always hated this. I mean, I wasn’t exactly a toddler by then. To this day I still don’t really like him.

    For the record, my immediate family is undemonstrative except for hugs hello and good-bye.

  13. I really believe we can be both…encouraging loving behavior(via a kiss, hug, etc.) and give our kids the ability to say: “no thanks, may I give a simple good bye instead?” I agree with setting boundaries on physical contact with other family members. But, as we all know as parents with toddlers and older kids, there comes a time when they just want to be obstinate and in control (in a negative way). When that is the case, I believe it’s a time to reflect on their heart and the why. But, when it’s a genuine comfortableness with it, we need to allow that. I believe it really boils down to knowing your child. I know when mine wants to be obstinate and in control and when there is genuine comfortableness. It’s OUR jobs as the mommies to be in tune with our children and their hearts and fears.

  14. I do remember being a very young child at family gatherings and being picked up and held foreverrrr but being too shy to say I wanted to be put down so I can go play.

    I do think we should be considerate of a child trying to wriggle away (as long as they’re not trying to get into something dangerous). They are people, not just cute play things.

    HOWEVER, I do think there is a thin line, my current thinking it is a little excessive to “protect” children from kissing and hugging. Greeting is a part of etiquette.

  15. I completely agree, Joanna, and feel very strongly about this. I have never forced my three girls to hug relatives. If they don’t want to (not often), I say, sorry, I guess she doesn’t want to hug right now. I don’t care, and feel completely unapologetic about it. I also do not try to force hugs from my kids to me. Sometimes they don’t want to be physically touched. I think it’s a very important message, for any child, especially girls. Last Christmas a man dressed in an elf costume (part of our town’s tree lighting) asked my people-pleasing 8-year-old daughter 3 times (!!!!) for a hug, and she stood her ground and politely but firmly said no. I wish I had said something to that man, but things were so chaotic I didn’t get a chance to. Boundaries, especially physical ones, are so important.

  16. unless a relative is hurting the child or offending them, the child needs to greet everyone, be polite, and learn to appreciate the love and affection.

  17. My husband’s family is from Mexico, and like some of the other commenters, there are cultural differences when it comes to greetings. It’s not just an expectation of the kids – everyone greets one another with a handshake and half-hug with an air kiss on the cheek. For strangers a regular handshake is fine. For the family members I’m closest to, like my mother in law, we do a full embrace and kiss on the cheek, particularly when we say goodbye. I like that we’re generally more affectionate, and since we all follow the same custom, there is never the awkward moment when you’re not sure if you should hug or not. I want my kids to learn this custom, although I am okay with them just doing the handshake if they feel uncomfortable with the cheek kiss. I’m not okay with them refusing to say hi or hello. I think you can teach them to be polite and also teach about setting boundaries and having autonomy over their own bodies. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

  18. I have mixed feelings about this. I grew up in a Scandinavian-American family and in that tradition you only hugged or kissed your closest relatives (such as the nuclear families of your own parents). Nobody pushed you to even do this if you weren’t ready yet or weren’t feeling it. So I’m all for having respect for personal space and autonomous choice (especially for the littlest!). On the other hand, I think it’s very sad if children aren’t encouraged to show at least some physical affection for their closest friends and relatives — sharing hugs and accepting or giving a kiss are part of a very normal socialization process and the joy of being human.

  19. As parents we need such wisdom! Yes? It’s so important to protect and also build up our kids. If they are uncomfortable or hesitant, then we need to flesh out the reason (is it shyness, disobedience, or deeper). But you hit it on the head…finding another acceptable greeting is the way to go. This is a great question and I love reading all the answers – it’s great to have counsel and advice on some subjects like this outside your own circle!

  20. i didnt read the article you linked but i completely agree with the philosophy. i encourage my child to say hello but i do not force them kicking screaming and crying just for a greeting. i feel they are allowed to have boundaries and its not up to me to force them to cross them.
    now if my child is just being silly or defiant when i know they are ok that is different situation. =)

  21. Very interesting to read these comments. I understand cultural differences, but I don’t understand how forcing a child to hug and kiss relatives against their will will result in anything good. Politeness can be required…physical contact? I don’t think so!

  22. Many years ago, Oprah did a segment on this. Unfortunately, those who sexually molest kids are often family members or friends of the family. It’s critical to listen to childrens’ feelings about being physically close to other adults, and to not force them to hug and kiss people they don’t want to. Especially important for little girls so they can grow up to become women with agency who feel like they, and only they, own their bodies.

  23. This is a difficult one… on the one hand I don’t always want to be touched myself, so I also don’t force hugs and kisses on my kids if they don’t want them either, but on the other hand… I wouldn’t want to hurt a relative’s feelings by refusing a hug or a kiss. My kids may not understand it for quite some time, but I will encourage them to receive hugs and kisses from aunties and grandmas (whether they want them or not) so as to be polite. We’ll talk about why this is the kind thing to do. I’m not always going to encourage them to stay silent and do things that make them uncomfortable, but in this particular instance – I think they can handle it.

  24. I would never make my children do anything they didn’t want to do, especially kiss someone they are not comfortable with. Imagine doing it yourself. Would YOU want to kiss all of your relatives? Weird.

    I think this is a great article in light of what’s coming out with Kelle Hampton. Taking her children to meet a crazed fan who smothered them with kisses. There are some pretty strange pictures of it, showing clearly how uncomfortable it made the children.

  25. I have to comment again because I’ve just thought of something else. When I was a kid I HATED having to talk to my grandmother on the phone. She lived very far away and was an invalid so she couldn’t travel. Yet I hated to be put on the spot and just have the phone shoved at me. I always asked if I could just send her a card or a drawing but my parents never relented. Now that I’m an adult with a child, I force my son to talk to his grandparents on Skype because I realize it is a sign of respect to do so. You’re not doing it because YOU want to. It’s for the other person. Now, I talk freely to my family and I make sure to call them whenever I get the chance so that they can hear my voice. As an adult, I don’t need to be prodded into doing it anymore because it’s become second nature. This is how customs are made and maintained.

  26. Totally agree! My great aunt used to pinch my cheeks and twist them whenever she saw us, all the while clenching her teeth. Sound scary? I get it. Kids are so cute sometimes you just want to bite them. But for the kid who’s on the receiving end of it…yikes.

  27. I definitely think kids need to properly greet everyone out of respect, but a hug is plenty
    In Dramatic Fashion

  28. I realize that I am part of the minority here but there is something to be said about teaching kids the lesson of empathy and compassion. I am a deeply introverted and private person. I remember feeling uncomfortable at large family gatherings (my mother was one of 17 children) with all the physical affection. What I remember my parents telling me and what I explain to my two little boys before meeting family is that their relatives love and are excited to see them. Giving family a hug or letting them kiss you, though it may not be a natural inclination reminds children to be mindful of other people’s feelings. In a society where we always let toddlers choose what they want may foster a selfish mindset. I believe acts of kindness and charity should be encouraged in a safe environment (such as family gatherings). Happy Thanksgiving Joanna and thankyou for creating such a unique environment for women to share their thoughts. Love this blog!

  29. This is something that my dad always stressed to me when I was younger. That it didn’t matter who it was uncle, aunt, grandma, neighbor, stranger, if I was uncomfortable, that it was my body, and I did not have to let anyone touch me/kiss me/hug me etc. Of course, I loved the attention, so I still did jump into my relatives laps, but he wanted it to be my choice.

    Later on, I found out that my father knew someone who had been molested by a relative, so I think that was his way of protecting me and teaching me consent at a young age.

  30. oh i so agree. my kids give hugs and kisses to only those they want to which ends up being the people they really know and are close with – grandparents and maybe some aunts or uncles depending. They do say goodbye to everyone though – i’m big on manners.

  31. Definitely something my husband and I have talked about recently. We take our son to Montessori where they practice independence and respect of the child (even as tiny babies). They (and now we at home) ask the babies and kids if they can change a diaper, pick them up, etc. When we ask our son (18 mos. )or tell him what is about to happen (I’m going to run your bath water, can I wipe your face?, etc.), he’s much calmer and more willing to participate. We still value manners, etc. so we do ask him to great people and hug/kiss grandparents. But if he pulls away, we tell him that’s OK or give him another option such as the high five. And sometimes he’s just shy and needs to warm up. In any case, I do think it’s possible to foster a sense of respect and love for one’s self and others — our kid is pretty affectionate, while our nephew prefers to give me a high five to say hi or bye.

  32. I also want to say – yes kids are sometimes uncomfortable with this–BUT you definitely don’t want your kid to grow up thinking physical affection in the FAMILY is weird. Someone very close to me never got hugs growing up, until one day he asked why, and it has affected him full force into adulthood. He still finds hugging and kissing people very uncomfortable and not natural. SO I think you should think of this. If your kid is going to just high five relatives, he is not going to be able to express himself with true affection freely when he wants to.

  33. Wow. Thats surprising that this is a “thing” now. Coming from a family from overseas, who is so much more affectionate, loving, and physical (not just family — for friends and just in general) than America, I find this unfortunate. Of course its anyones choice. But its sad that this is a thing in American culture. Its just so far from what I want and what I think family is about. To each their own, though.

  34. I hate really saying what I would do with my kids since I dont have any and know my opinions will probably drastically change once I do have them. However I feel the slobbery kisses and the uncomfortable hugs were all pushed on us as kids so that we can learn to respect others around us. To this day I am put into uncomfortable situations where a hug or a kiss on the cheek is not something I would want to do but know for that person it is a sign of kindness and respect… so for now I would agree with many others that it is something children should learn to tolerate or atleast kindly say no and give an alternative mark of appreciation.

  35. A friend of mine used to pressure her toddler into giving me a kiss and hug every time we parted and it was SOOOO awkward. Her toddler usually relented but I wasn’t so big on the slobbery toddler kiss. I reserve those for MY own babies. I agree, giving kids the message that their bodies are not their own to decide when to give affection is confusing- esp faced with inappropriate situations. My kids are at the age where they watch EVERYthing I do, so modeling behavior seems to be the best teacher right now. Great post.

  36. I completely agree!! I was actually thinking about it when we had my 1 year old meet Santa recently and he burst into tears. When else is it ok to plop a baby on a random old man’s lap?

  37. I don’t agree. Of course, I’d never force a child to kiss a relative if they got upset by it; but if they simply say no, I don’t like it or no, I don’t feel like it, I’d definitely encourage them and urge them forward. Allowing someone else to kiss them — a member of the family — is something I’d encourage because I believe that affection should be shown to our little ones by more than just the parents. I think our children should be part of the big, messy, melting pot that makes up extended family. I believe they learn to open up more, they learn acceptance of those who are different, and that they learn that family is made up of more than the people you see on a regular basis. It also gives us as parents an opportunity to talk to them and perhaps explain that Uncle So-&-So is loud and obnoxious but that we know underneath he’s a softy who loves little children; or Auntie So-&-So always gives slobbery kisses but that’s because she doesn’t have children of her own — those kinds of things. Wonderful teaching opportunities. There were relatives from my past that I didn’t want to hug or kiss, but I have to say that in ALL cases, I came to appreciate each one in some way.

  38. Handshakes and high fives are acceptable substitutes in our house. Funny, my son takes a looong time to warm up to the people (relatives included) who come on really strong… whereas the ones who show interest but leave plenty of space have him hugging, kissing, climbing into their laps in no time.

    My son’s teacher also taught his class to say “Space, please!” when they need some “me time.” They’re all big huggers, they love to dance together and play cooperatively… but sometimes they get overwhelmed. It’s too funny to hear them say it to one another, but it prevents meltdowns!

  39. I find this a little bizarre but I think it’s just that I’m from a different culture.I was brought up to greet not only family members but also my parents’ friends with a hug and a kiss. It was rude NOT to do this.I think it’s weird to link this custom with ideas about personal space,consent or free will. I understand the concern but I can tell you from personal experience that it doesn’t make a child more likely to submit to molestation by an adult or assault a fellow child just because his/her parents made them give Grandma a kiss. Your child may not want to pick up his toys or apologize to his sister for hitting her on the head but you teach them that they have to and it becomes second nature to them after awhile.

  40. I saw a comment from Emily above, and I had the same thing happen to me. I was probably 11 years old or so and told my grandfather that I had a cold because I was embarrassed to kiss him at the airport. It’s one of my biggest regrets because 1. I hurt his feelings and 2. it was the last time I saw him. He passed away a few months later.

  41. Oh my god yes! I always felt so uncomfortable being made to kiss relatives or family friends so I was adamant I wouldn’t do the same to my kids. They volunteer to give people hugs and kisses a lot anyway, but if doesn’t feel right they blow kisses or give high fives instead.

  42. I’m a hugger from way back (but not a kiss-on-the-lipper if the subject is not romantically involved with me!), but I don’t like forcing hugs on others who are clearly uncomfortable with them.

    I recently read a fab book called “The Five Love Languages”, and it says that physical touch is a big love language for some people, but that others might feel and show love through words of appreciation, giving/receiving gifts, performing acts of service, and spending quality time with them. That book has changed my life, and how I relate with my immediate family. If you’re interested in more about it, here’s the website:

  43. I am teaching my kids to be verbally polite in social settings whether it is with friends or family [IE say ‘hello’, ‘thank you for having me over’. However my daughters sometimes don’t want to be hugged and kissed by relatives they rarely see, and I respect their feelings on this.

  44. My mom tells a story about how my brother and sister and I, when we were very little, didn’t want to give our grandma (my dad’s mom) a hug and kiss goodnight. My mom didn’t make us, and my grandmother was furious with her. But my mom (who is a psychologist) felt that it was important not to force physical contact. I don’t remember that incident, but I can remember the same grandma making us lick HER fingers when we would bake with her, and that still grosses me out (from her perspective, it was an innocent way of having us try a little cookie dough, but I distinctly remember feeling pressured). I do think it’s important for kids to understand that physical contact is always a choice–and that there are other ways to be polite and even affectionate that don’t involve contact that makes one person uncomfortable.

  45. My family is rather huggy-kissy. It was a social expectation that the kids greet all the aunts and uncles with hugs, often receiving a kiss to boot. If a child really didn’t want to hug/kiss they certainly wouldn’t be forced. As kids we didn’t exactly enjoy it, but I really think that it was an important part of my upbringing. I feel that it encourages a certain amount of affection, tinged with respect toward your relatives. Children also need to learn appropriate social affection toward their relatives. I think hugging and kissing aunts, uncles and grandparents is part of that.

  46. Yes! As a therapist who works with children who have been sexually abused, I firmly believe in anything that promotes consent for what happens to you and your body. Also personally, I will never forget the anxiety on my 5 year old nephew’s face when grandma tried to get him to sit on my 23 year old son’s lap for a family picture. They hardly ever see each other and neither were comfortable with what grandma was trying to arrange. I gently made a different suggestion and we all survived family photos :)

  47. Wow Bisbee! She called him a brat?!?! Go mama for standing up for him :)
    I think it’s creepy when children are forced into hugs and kisses. I don’t kiss everyone…why should they have too. Saying goodbye is polite and good enough. (Although, my shy three year old doesn’t do that either most of the time)

  48. I always dreaded greetings and goodbyes as a kid due to obligatory hugs and kisses. As my mother once said to me in a slightly resentful voice – I didn’t like to be held as a child. I can’t imagine forcing my daughter to kiss or hug someone if she didn’t want to. That said, I have nieces and nephews who never say hello or goodbye and I find it to be very rude. My daughter can choose how she’s comfortable in expressing herself, but I do want her to be polite and at least acknowledge people. Please and thank you are also very important to me.

  49. I think teaching children that they can say no to family members and other authority figures like teachers is critical (this is where most sexual abuse occurs, sadly).

    I also think a proper handshake is the only alternative to a cheerful hug; fist-bumps or high fives are a cop-out. A child can be not comfortable kissing, but you need to teach them the courage to look someone in the eye and shake their hand. Of course no five year old *wants* to do that…but you do it anyway, because it’s polite. I think that’s a key distinction: meeting a gaze and shaking hands is polite…hugging and kissing is your choice.

  50. Yes, totally! I know this is revolting, but a friend was inundated with slobbery kisses as a kid, and as a result of one kiss in particular by a great aunt had the misfortune of contracting herpes in her EYE. Yes, ocular herpes is a thing, so gross!

  51. I have a pretty big family, so when I was little I really only knew a handful of them. I always hated having to make the rounds to kiss everyone hello and goodbye.

    There’s even more of us now, and we’re better about just letting kids make the choice to hug the family members they’re comfortable with (but heaven forbid you miss grandma or grandpa! Give them the biggest hug of all!)

  52. I highly recommend the kids video The Safety Show — it tackles this very issue in an awesome, non-scary way. There’s a song on there called “I’m the Boss of my Body” and that’s what we remind our seven year old – that NO ONE has permission to touch her in a way that makes her feel uncomfortable or unhappy. I think statistically so much child abuse happens in the family or with someone the child is familiar with, so forcing kids to accept touch is robbing of them of their voice and is potentially dangerous.

    I love that the video I mentioned is all about empowering kids and letting them know their voice is important. As a parent it is terrifying that I can’t protect my child from everything, but I CAN equip my daughter to be strong and stand up for herself and ask me for help when she needs it.

  53. Many cultures are very affectionate, especially during greetings. I understand they want to make sure children know how to greet adults and show their love, but no one should be forced to kiss or hug someone, even if it’s expected. I don’t believe in forcing children to physically be affectionate with anybody. They should (as with adults) have a choice on who to hug or kiss. It also means more when they actually do it. Sometimes, being forced to hug and kiss people makes the act lose its meaning. I love the idea of giving people a handshake or a high five instead!

  54. Ugh, my grandfather always wanted a kiss, and it always made me incredibly uncomfortable. I think it’s so important not to force any physical contact with children, so they learn that no one has the right to force them to be touched in a way that makes them uncomfortable. Kids, especially under age six, cannot reason so they don’t know why touching that makes them uncomfortable is okay in some situation (I.e, kissing grandma at thanksgiving) but not others (abuse)

  55. I have to say I disagree with this. Of course a kid should know to say ‘no,’ to being touched when not in their parents’ clear sight. But hugging and kissing relatives is an act of respect. I think kids get a lot of autonomy these days that is not really necessary. Of course there are different parenting styles and I respect that, but I personally will not give my children those kinds of choices (what they can eat, for example,) let alone how they greet their relatives.

  56. I must admit I find this to be a little obnoxious..just being honest. I think that (*appropriate, well intentioned) affection with family members is part of life and a beautiful thing. I find this concept to be one of those “overthinking parenthood” things. Not many adults are sitting in a therapist’s chair saying “my grandma kissed me too forcefully at christmas every year…”

  57. As an elementary school teacher in a gentrified neighborhood in NYC, I have college educated parents and many immigrant parents, mostly from west African countries. Seeing how different their parenting styles are is fascinating, especially when thinking about the effect it has on that child’s academics and behavior in school. I’ve learned a lot about how I want to raise my kids in the future from seeing my students now. That being said, as much as I’m pro talking to kids like they’re smart (no baby-talk) and truly listening to and respecting their opinions, I feel that too often parents mistake ‘my child has feelings and I must respect that’ for ‘you don’t want to kiss grandma? No biggie! Do only what you want to, sweetie, it’s your choice.’ Too often I’ve seen well intentioned parents think that they’re respecting their kids feelings but, really, they’re spoiling their kids. As long as you maintain a very honest, transparent and sincere relationship with your child, I think it’s important to tell your child that some things are non-negotiables. Showing your family some love? That’s a non-negotiable. And that’s where my west African parents have taught me a magnificent lesson: kids have voices that must be heard, yes, of course. However, they’re not adults yet so some things you just have to tell them to do because your their parent and that’s how it is. So grandma’s kisses are slobbery and your aunt’s hugs are too tight? Deal with it baby, they love you, you’re lucky to have people like them in your life and a hand shake is something you do in a job interview not with the people who would give their life for you SO GO GIVE GRANDMA SOME LOVE AND ACT LIKE YOU MEAN IT.

  58. I read that article too and think about it often! I tend to lean toward the perspective of the author as well. If you don’t want to give a kiss, it should be taught from a young age that you have a choice. I think kids should be taught to be respectful and greet others warmly, but who says that has to be with a kiss specifically?However, I know some of our family members place a lot of value on raising well-behaved kids (I do too), and would see a refusal to kiss an elder family member as defiance (I would not). With the holidays fast approaching, I’m considering how best to gracefully broach the subject if it comes up.

  59. I’ve read this article too and think that it sounds like a good approach (I’m just expecting my first child now). My question to you is how do you do this in practice? Like when there are aunts and uncles around who are expecting hugs and kisses?

  60. My extended family has never been huggy or kissy and I liked that that was never an expectation for us as kids. However, as I’ve gotten older I realized that I sometimes have negative feelings towards friendly hugs or kisses and get awkward when I want to be affectionate. I agree that kids shouldn’t be forced into physical contact with others but I also think being devoid of physical affection with non-immediate family members can make it difficult later on in life to be normal about it.

  61. I’ve read this too and feel strongly that my children never feel forced or coerced into giving hugs and kisses. I want them to know early on that their bodies are their own and that they can say ‘no’ whenever they are uncomfortable.

  62. so this is interesting. i’m 25 and in the past few months, i become good friends with a couple who have three young girls (7, 5, and 2). the mom almost demands that the girls hug me good bye. the younger one doesn’t mind so much, she loves hugs! but the 5 year old definitely doesn’t like/want to give hugs to people she doesn’t know yet. i must say… i feel awkward as the outsider standing there in the doorway, while the mother is urging her daughter to hug me, and the child obviously doesn’t want to give a hug!

    so yeah, i’d have to say…i completely agree with this. they should give physical affection because they want to, not because they have to. things that kids SHOULD be made to do?: be polite. and this should be whatever it looks like in their culture.

  63. Absolutely! Always ask before you hug or kiss anyone you’re not romantically linked to or have a friendship with.

  64. My child will always be taught to show respect and kindness, but he is in charge of whether he wants to kiss, hug, high-five, or something else. I think it is important for children to be allowed to set their boundaries and to be respected for that. I was a very shy child and I can’t imagine how hard it would have been if my parents had made me kiss and hug all my relatives.

  65. I so don’t make my boys hug and kiss anyone–they hug grandma and grandma good bye and that’s it. I have a boatload of nieces and nephews (on my hubby’s side, of course) who will give hugs and kisses all day long but NEVER are required to say please and thank you. I’d much rather my kids be polite and appreciative (they regularly say please/thank you without being reminded) than give thoughtless, forced hugs.

  66. Thank you so much for posting this Joanna— I think it’s so important to teach children early about bodily consent and how they present themselves whether it ranges from not wanting to kiss grandma to choosing what they wear and how they like their hair. If it’s reinforced at a young age, it makes those conversations so much easier as children get older. I also think it’s important that teaching manners— acknowledging adults when they speak to you—is separated as very different from being forced to hug someone.

  67. I totally and completely agree. Physical affection should never been forced or encourage, but proper manners, eye contact, polite words, and thankfulness and sincerity can still be taught! This is a point of concern at our house for the additional reason that my son has autism spectrum disorder and often really, really dislikes physical touch.

  68. I totally agree. My son (who will be 40 soon) did not like to kiss when he was little. I remember being at my husband’s aunt and uncle’s house…their neighbor came over. She told him to come give her a kiss, and he said no. She called him a brat! I didn’t let that go…told her he can choose who he wants to kiss!

    I still remember it like it was yesterday…I wouldn’t have wanted to kiss this woman either!

  69. We don’t push giving hugs and kisses at all! If it’s not from their heart, why should I push it? My youngest daughter is super shy and doesn’t like to give everyone hugs and kisses. I could never imagine myself making her. We also don’t make our kids share! I know, shocking! We praise them when they do but we don’t make them. Same principle in my opinion. Thankfully, they do it from their heart but it’s not forced.

  70. I agree. Children should be polite but should be able to say “No, thank you”, to physical contact from anyone. I have one grandson who is fine with being bowled over by almost anyone, but his brother is more stand-offish. To the latter I say, “Can I give you one kiss on the cheek?” and he is fine with that. I think it is the forewarning and telling him it will only be one kiss. Boundaries should be learned early on and enforced by parents.

  71. I absolutely agree with this. I agree that kids should be taught to pay respects and acknowledge their relatives in some form, but I do not force my kids. My youngest usually opts for fist-bumps instead, but once he’s been around someone a while (Grandma falls into this category thankfully), he’ll allow himself to be hugged.

  72. we really want to do this with our little girl but we aren’t sure how to approach it with family. I was brought up that it’s rude to not kiss everyone and I know it’s going to be an issue. Even now, at 1, she sometimes doesn’t want to be held or kissed and over zealous grandparents will steal a kiss or hug. It makes me uncomfortable for her!

  73. Such a good thing to contemplate. My son is very loving and physically affectionate but can, at age 7, show with his eyes in a kid way that he does not want to be touched. Just last week we saw a friend we hadn’t seen for a couple years who is very huggy. My son was polite but showed he didn’t want a hug. I recall as a child the horror of snobbery male kisses from semi-inebriated cousins and uncles especially with moustaches that smelled of alcohol. Blech! And pinching of my rosy cheeks- how is pinching EVER okay? I don’t know what I’d do if we lived closer to family. I think teaching your child to politely say hi and perhaps shake hands is a good plan

  74. The only good hugs from children are spontaneous hugs that they give because they want to. Forced hugs or kisses are no fun at all. I tutor second graders and relish their hugs and, of course, no one urges them to hug me as I am not a family member. Their hugs, then, are genuine expressions of caring and I cherish them. same goes for my grands; I only want the hugs they choose to give and I am content to say hi and smile the rest of the time.

  75. This is really important. I have never particularly liked being touched excessively, so when I was a child, I hated this part of the evening – my parents were always okay with it, but my grandmother never was and would insist that I do it so as not to be rude.

    A funny thing is that I had an uncle who I avoided like the plague, to the point where I would try to hide to avoid giving him a hug. It turned out later, after he and my aunt divorced, that he was a pretty terrible person who did some really horrible things that our family didn’t know anything about (never anything to do with me, just to be clear). Sometimes kids are just weird, but also sometimes they are also WAY more perceptive than adults and see/feel things that we can’t with our cloudy adult heads.

  76. I totally agree with you! I’ve never thought about that, but it makes sense to me! Kids should have a choice too. :)

  77. Yes, yes, yes! I think this is so important! At 2-almost-3 my daughter is learning the basics of consent, that she has control of her own body, and she doesn’t have to feel she has to show affection to spare someone’s feelings (<–that idea is so dangerous!). Tickling is a perfect opportunity to model this. I remember as a kid being unable to stop laughing even when I was no longer enjoying the tickling. So now with my kids, I stop and check in every few seconds to make sure they’re still having fun. Even my 8 month-old can give me clues that he likes it or is done. With my daughter, I like to ask, “is your tickle tank empty? Do you want me to fill it up?” Many times she says no.

    I think it’s important to respect children’s boundaries from birth. Our society often treats kids like they are not fully formed human brings, but they are! We can teach kids to be polite a respectful and to greet friends and family without overriding their feelings about what to do with their bodies. Okay, I’ll step off my soapbox now. :)

  78. Yes, yes, and yes. Let’s teach our children about consent, and also about autonomy. Learning it’s not our responsibility to ensure that everyone “likes” us (particularly us women who have been taught to do whatever we can to be liked) is a bonus. Thank you, Joanna!

  79. YES. The first time I read an article about childhood consent, I thought it was ridiculous (a 1st grade boy being suspended from school for kissing a classmate or something like that) but after a bit of time ruminating on it something clicked.

    When I was at a summer camp in elementary school a little boy decided to play a game where he would run up at any moment and try to kiss me. This went on for days! The adults & counselors around me thought it was funny & encouraged the boy. I was SO uncomfortable & felt ashamed for being uncomfortable.

    Children should be 100% be taught about consent & to trust their instincts about their bodies. Five or six is just too young to start internalizing the message that you are object for others use!

  80. I was forced as a child to hug and kiss (on the cheek) everyone in greeting. And we always had to say goodnight/bye before leaving. It may have been awkward sometimes, but it wasn’t an option, and I don’t feel it should be. Greetings and salutations are a learned behavior. Children should have their own style, but they should not be allowed to get out of greetings and goodbyes. Even if they prefer to just say hello or shake hands, a child should have to greet someone face to face.

  81. I’ve felt strongly about this point since the day our kids were born: we are all in charge of our own bodies. I want my kids to get the consistency of that message — whether we are with a stranger, a friend, or a family member, we get to decide for ourselves if we want to give or receive a hug/kiss or not. To me it seems so incredibly important in developing your own instincts, especially when we started teaching our kids about stranger danger — we want them to trust their gut about that, so I’m not going to tell them to ignore their gut when Auntie Helen wants a kiss if they don’t feel like it.

  82. The rule in my family is:
    girls kiss everyone in the cheek (it’s an air kiss, of course, you don’t actually put your lips on someone’s cheek);
    boys shake men’s hands and kiss the ladies.

    Of course we’re talking about direct family: grandparents, aunts and uncles and great-aunts and great-uncles. Siblings and parents always kiss.

    Everyone else -waving hello and waving goodbye, blowing kisses to the ladies and high-fiving or shaking men’s hands.

    I think it is very important for them not to feel obligated to kiss everyone, but they need to know they have to greet every time.

  83. This is very timely. My fiance’s niece is very shy and she’s an only child. When we’re all leaving a gathering. Her parents and grandparents ask her “are you going give X a kiss?” Everyone accepts these tentative awkward hugs and it makes me cringe. I make a point of saying “another time sweetheart” and I don’t know if she’s relieved or grateful but at least she won’t remember me as obtuse and clingy. I think her parent have a very specific idea of a sweet little girl with the ballet lessons and the french immersion and this is just my part in her upcoming rebellion. I can’t wait for it!

  84. This is a great topic. As kids we hugged and kissed relatives goodbye but stopped when we didn’t feel comfortable. My husbands family insists on hugs, which as an adult I don’t even feel comfortable with most of the time.

    However, I do think its important to both greet and say goodbye to everyone present. Is it possible to leave it up to the child as to how they feel comfortable doing so? I ask since I am expecting our first and not sure how it will go over – both on the child’s and the other adult’s side.

  85. CK says...

    I am always enormously touched when my little nieces and nephews choose to kiss me, even though they haven’t seen me in a very long time. It means more because they want to do it! I remember little old ladies I’d never met demanding “Sugar” and pointing at their powdery cheeks in the awfulest way–and I was painfully shy as a child–so I would never expect it. But it’s very sweet when it happens!

    Have a happy Thanksgiving!

  86. I’m so interested that you would think that. My mum’s side of the family is French, so I was brought up to kiss everyone hello and goodbye, family AND friends and it was no big deal, just what everyone did. However, the last time I saw my grandfather, I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye, not knowing it was going to be the last time, obviously. I’d be so sad to think that my (hypothetical) kids may one day miss out on a last kiss with a beloved grandparent, just because they were feeling shy/not feeling it.

  87. I completely agree 100% and I read the same article awhile ago. I have two little boys, and although I want nothing more than to force my 3 year old to let me kiss him and squeeze him all day long, I now ask for a hug and kiss when I want one and if he says “no”, I respect that. I think it’s REALLY important for kids to know they have control over their bodies and over who is in their face and I think it can lead to dangerous things down the line if we teach our kids (even subtly) that if a grown up wants to hug or kiss them, they don’t need to ask permission and they can do it force-ably.

  88. I never make my kids kiss relatives or anybody. i used to hide in the bathroom when people arrived at gatherings because it made me feel so awkward to have to kiss them.

  89. We let our kids chose how they want to say I love you. Its a going thing in our house that you need to say I love you in some way when you say good bye, eg, at school or when mom goes to work, but you get to chose how. My parents are staying with us now and are good on this too – I think I said once that we were using it as a way to teach consent and they’ve been fantastic about it. They’ve told the kids that they’d really like to have hugs and kisses and to play tickles but that they (the kids) can tell them when its a good time or tell them its not a good time and they will listen. Has meant that my son has gleefully run up to my mother and said tickle me Grammy and they both collapse in giggles!

  90. I come from a country where it’s expected of kids to be enthusiastic and warm to adults (Dominican Republic).

    My parents let me choose who I was to hug or kiss, but there were some people I had to be nice to (aunts, cousins)… Here there’s the understanding that you’re being rude if you don’t let an adult hold you and kiss you, like you’re rejecting them.

    As an adult, I can’t think of a more terrifying thing than to teach a child you should let them accept physical contact they don’t approve of.

    In the last years, I’ve seen how people are making the switch, saying kids will show affection when they’re ready.

  91. I think it’s good to follow their lead. If they don’t seem to like getting hugged and kissed by family, friends, strangers etc, that should be respected and parents can help enforce this if a child is too young to do it on their own.
    My sister was a very loving, affectionate child but my dad didn’t want her running around hugging and kissing everyone so he’d admonish her and pull her off of people. I think this can be just as damaging to a child. It’s important to protect children, but a child should also enjoy the beauty of expressing their love for people.

  92. I remember that article and I, too, have thought about it frequently – both in respect to teaching my son that he can set boundaries regarding his own body, and teaching him to respect others’. When I think of all the dark, awful things out there that could hurt my son I can hardly breathe from fear… It’s reassuring to me to have good advice like this on how to build him up as a strong, decent human who will be able to protect himself.

  93. That article struck a real chord with me and I also have been thinking about it a lot lately! I grew up in a very non-kissy family & one of my most unpleasant childhood memories is having to kiss my great uncle — on the LIPS — when he & my great aunt would visit every Christmas Eve. I’m 35 now but those memories still skeeve me out. Now that I have a daughter I want to make sure she knows she’s allowed to decline physical contact!!!

  94. Lu says...

    I distinctly remember being a baby and my underarms being sore as a little one from people picking me up (first world problem right?). Not having mastered talking yet, I remember pulling away when people would try to pick me up (especially on busy days like holidays) or crying. However, I became super mindful of it when I worked in child care later on and with all my nieces and nephews. I think about it all the time especially when I see a little one get yanked up at the grocery store etc. I’ve found all kinds of weird ways to get those little ones on my hip without hurting those delicate little underarms.

  95. Hmmm… I think its a little much to ‘protect’ kids from relative’s hugs and kisses. Everyone hated the sloppy aunt kisses and being so close to grandpa’s hairy ears; but i think there’s something to be said for teaching kids to be comfortable with older and elderly people – that they’re not scary or gross. (Full disclosure – I don’t have kids yet).

  96. As an adult I still don’t like to kiss everyone hello and goodbye- my family just simply didn’t do that so it’s always felt very odd and uncomfortable for me. My fiancé is from a family of huggers and kissers and I often joke about how many hugs and kisses will happen at one dinne gathering. One time I had to give 18 hugs and kisses! 18! I think it all comes down to what you are comfortable with, especially for little kids.

  97. I agree about consent- but I also think that kids should learn to greet grownups properly. In Colombia, children go around and kiss everyone and get kissed, but on the cheek. If they don’t kiss, they shake hands. Some of our friends’ children come over and don’t even say hello. I find that really disrespectful.