What to Do When Your Child Doesn’t Want to Hug a Family Member

Check out these tips before relatives arrive for the holidays.

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Sad little child, boy, hugging his mother at home, isolated image, copy space. Family concept


Sad little child, boy, hugging his mother at home, isolated image, copy space. Family concept

Photo by: tatyana_tomsickova


The holidays are just around the corner and while most of the time will be filled with happiness and joy, struggles and tears can be common if you have little ones.

When we were young, some of us may remember being hugged by our unfamiliar aunt, or that adult who grabbed our cheeks and told us how cute we were. For some children these encounters are uncomfortable and awkward.

As a parent you want to raise your children with manners, but in a culture where learning about consent and boundaries is so important, you also don’t want to force your children to do things that cross this line. Forcing your children to hug someone who they’ve barely seen is blurring the lines of body autonomy. If you want to raise a child who understands boundaries and consent, it starts now, and especially during the holidays.

Your child has a right to make choices about his or her body in every interaction. So, here are four tips to make this holiday season a little easier:

Set Expectations

Talk to your child about who is going to be at family gatherings, especially if they’ll be around people they’ve never met before or who they rarely interact with.

Encourage Politeness

Remind your child that while they don’t to have kiss or hug anyone who they don’t feel comfortable kissing or hugging, they'll want to be polite.

An easy way to encourage politeness is by giving your child options on how to be polite, such as saying hi, waving, smiling or even giving a high five. The key word here is encourage. You don’t want to force your child to do something they are uncomfortable with.

Remember: if your child hides behind your legs, that is O.K.; some people are shy, and others aren’t. You’re teaching your child how to navigate this world, and how to have healthy boundaries.

Model the Behavior You Want Your Child to Display

Forcing our children doesn’t work. You might get the desired outcome, but they won’t understand why they have to do this. Try navigating the family gathering by being next to your child and modeling the behavior you’d like them to display. Your child is watching what you’re doing and if you’re being polite to others, they will learn how to be polite too.

Respect Their Boundaries

Most of us had encounters where the line of what you wanted to do versus what the other person wanted to do felt blurry; it’s something you didn’t really want to do but you felt pressured, so you caved. This happens, in part, because when we were children, we were forced to display affection or “politeness.”

If your child doesn’t want to hug or kiss a family member, make sure this person doesn’t cross the line. This will probably be one of the hardest parts for you to navigate, but it’s important to remember that it is not your job to make the adult feel better about themselves. It is your job to teach your child that their choices matter, especially those involving their bodies.

Try telling the friend or family member: “My child doesn’t feel like hugging right now. Let’s wait and see if they feel more comfortable later, once they’ve gotten to know you a little better.”

Your little ones will thank you.

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