photo © 2009 David Goehring | more info (via: Wylio)
So over the weekend, I had an awkward encounter with a friend and her 5 year old daughter. When we first greeted each other we hugged and said the usual 'hellos' and then my friend told her daughter to go and give me a hug. Seems innocent?
Well, no so much. Of course as soon as the mother requested a hug, the little girl hid behind her mom. It was pretty obvious to me, the little girl and any witness that this girl was not interested in giving me a hug. Well, it was obvious to everyone EXCEPT her mother. The mother kept insisting her daughter give me a hug where I in turn stated, "oh, that's okay, she doesn't have to give me a hug if she is not feeling like it today. Maybe next time." And I quickly changed the subject.
I can't tell you how many times I have witnessed this over the years and how uncomfortable it makes each and every one involved. I wonder, why do parents push their kids to give hugs and kisses to family members, friends or barely known acquaintances?
Maybe it's because the parent wants people to think their child is a kind, giving, social, and pleasant child. They don't want people to think their child is either shy, rude, snobby, or rejecting. Do they think it is a reflection of them being a bad parent?
All I know is if we push children to give affection when it's not something they are naturally initiating, then what are we teaching them?
Well for one, the worst case scenario is that we are pushing them in the wrong direction if they ever come in contact with a sexual perpetrator. We need to teach them to be safe, and not victims.
Perpetrators first like to 'groom' children which means they start out by giving verbal compliments, then move onto maybe some innocent seeming touch like patting their heads, and then use these 'grooming' techniques to seek out their ulterior motives. And if we push our kids to give physical affection when they don't want to, then we are teaching them the wrong message when it comes to their safety.
Secondly and more commonly, we are teaching them to push their boundaries when we push our kids to give unwarranted physical affection to others. Healthy boundaries are important and if we make our kids test them, then the lines get crossed and they become unhealthy boundaries.
Basically this means that as parents we all want our children to become confident and assertive in life- this means they have self-esteem. They know what is expected of them, they know what the rules and limits are (boundaries). They know how to say,"no" and can stand up for themselves.
If we push them to cross these boundaries, then they get fuzzy and confused and they don't know what is acceptable or not. Worst case here would be if our child ends up in a unhealthy relationship either with a partner, a bad job with a controlling boss or worse, a domestic violence relationship. How? Because they keep agreeing and saying 'yes' and don't know what the boundaries are and how to walk away from a bad situation.
What to do?
If you are a parent out there who has been guilty of this, I can understand how society has taught us to make sure our kids are friendly and show affection. But it is really up to them to decide on who to give physical affection to and it is not something they should be punished for or coerced to giving. As long as you teach them these social skills, they will have the knowledge and will use it when they feel that it's appropriate.
As parents (using your own words) the best thing is to teach your child something by saying something like, "People give hugs and kisses when they want to show someone how much you care about them. Just like mommy and daddy gives you hugs and kisses because we love you. You can choose to give hugs and kisses only when you feel like it." And then you can go into more detail such as where it's appropriate to give kisses, like on the cheek, so that your son does not go up to a cute 1st grade girl and send her the wrong message :)
So, what to do if some parent pushes their kid on you? I just keep saying the same thing to the child as I mentioned above, "it looks like you are just not feeling like you want to give a hug to me today and that's ok. Sometimes you feel like giving them and sometime you don't." And HOPE that the parent is listening and gets the hint.
Has anyone else been in this situation, or been the parent on the other side?