Social Wellbeing

Making Kids Give Hugs and Kisses: How Does it Relate to Consent?

“Quick, give grandma and grandpa a hug and a kiss goodbye before we go!” Depending on your family dynamics, this may be a phrase you often hear when visiting relatives. Perhaps even more so as many families reunite for the holidays for the first time since the pandemic hit. Social distancing aside, there are reasons to consider why not forcing a hug or a kiss is a good thing.  

The Challenge

Determine what works for your family and try it out. Setting new boundaries with family members can be hard if it deviates from the norm you have all been accustomed to. One easy way to begin doing this is to give the children in your life the options of how to say “goodbye” highlighted in this challenge: do you want a hug, high five, fist bump, wave—or add other creative options! If you have your own children, practice this in your own home; when it’s time to go to bed give your child options for saying goodnight.

little girl hugging an adult

With the holiday season upon us, many of us are gathering with our families and friends to celebrate holiday traditions while also perhaps reuniting with extended family members for the first time since the pandemic. When little kids are in tow, well-meaning family members may be ready to give lots of kisses and hugs. While you may know that these are often coming from a place of love, this can also be really overwhelming for kids if they themselves aren’t wanting to receive those hugs and kisses.

Most of us want to raise kids that are kind, loving, and respectful, even more so when considering family and friends who are important to us. So, it can be tempting to coax kids into giving their grandmother or aunt a hug when it’s been a while since they’ve seen each other or we just want them to love each other! However, if we ignore the signals children send to us about their own comfort levels or desire for physical affection, what are they learning about consent?

Consent lets others know how we want them to interact with us and our bodies. This includes whether kids want to give hugs or kisses. Helping kids learn to communicate and hold their boundaries around their bodies builds respect for others’ boundaries and helps lay a healthy foundation for future relationships in their lives. 

When a child is forced into hugging or kissing someone they do not want to, we’re sending the message that they are not in control of their own body. If a child is used to complying with adults’ requests for affection—even something as seemingly simple as a hug—this may open the door for a child to feel obligated to comply with requests from an unsafe adult down the line. However, a child who has been taught that their body is their own, and they can say no to physical affection if they choose, is more likely to be able to say no to someone else who asks them to do something they are not comfortable with doing.

Let children know that they always have the option to decline. This could look like getting ahead of when the hugging/kissing requests come by offering some “goodbye options”. As you prepare to say goodbye, ask your children if they want to hug, kiss, high five, or wave goodbye. That way, family members already know what to expect (and that it may not be a hug coming their way) and your child is given an option right at the start.

Perhaps you yourself are the grandparent, aunt, or extended family member. Consider what your “norm” is when saying goodbye to the children in your family? Do you automatically hug or do you offer options to say goodbye? You yourself can introduce the method of offering options to say goodbye: “I’m going to miss you! I’m so glad I got to see you today, would you like to give me a hug, high five, fist bump, or wave goodbye?”

Let's Get Together

Ask fellow Sisters how they handle physical affection with the children in their lives. They may have even more creative ways to say goodbye that you wouldn’t have thought of!


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