As a child walking into a family function, did you have parents who would tell you to hug every relative in the room before being allowed to run off and play with the other kids your age? Did you ever make sure your kids hugged family members or friends when you all got together? Well, there’s a school of thought backed by parents who believe moms and dads should never force their kids to hug anyone. Whether or not you agree with this, it’s on the rise and people are torn.
Diana Spalding (a mama, midwife, and pediatric nurse) penned a personal account of why she never forces her own children to hug anyone. That said, she’ll be the first to acknowledge that awkwardness when she sides with her child, saying: “It’s okay baby, you don’t have to give her a hug.”
Those adults just want affection from someone they love and it’s just a hug… So, what’s the problem?
“My responsibility is to my children, first and beyond everything else,” says Spalding. “It is my job to help them stand up for themselves, and to stand up for them when they can’t.”
Understandably, a child and their parent declining a hug can confuse, shock, and maybe even anger the person seeking affection. Is that reason enough to sacrifice your child’s personal space and comfort? In some cases, forcing a child to give that relative a hug or a kiss could squander the chance of a healthy relationship in the future.
I’m the boss of my body!
At its core, this popular school of thought comes down to consent. While that word may not be directly talked about so much when kids are young, it’s extremely relevant. (Just think about how many times you had to tell a sibling or friend to leave you alone because you didn’t want your body sat on or wrestled with, haha.)
“I actually feel immensely proud of them when they decline a hug,” Spalding says. “It takes a lot of guts to stand up for yourself – in general, and especially to slightly intoxicated Aunt Sally. I want to show them through my actions that they are allowed and encouraged to speak their mind and protect themselves for things that make them nervous.”
In fact, explaining to kids that they can actually choose who they hug – family member or not – can be empowering. It helps teach them the idea that they are in charge or their own bodies and do not have to do anything that they feel will jeopardize their comfort and safety.
Although it may seem rude to side with your child who simply doesn’t feel like hugging after Thanksgiving dinner, fostering the idea that kids are bosses of their bodies will help them as they grow, make friends, enter relationships, and join the workforce.
When No Means No
It’s as simple as that… and not just in extreme cases. No means no when that first boyfriend or girlfriend says they’re not ready. No means no when you want your friend or sibling to stop flicking you. And no means no when you just don’t want to hug or kiss your relative.
Acknowledging a frightening reality, Spalding cites statistics from RAINN, the United States’ largest anti-sexual violence organization: “Statistics are such that it is likely that one of my children will find themselves somehow in an uncomfortable situation involving their bodies. I won’t be with them when it happens.”
Some of you may have never thought so deeply about a simple hug. Although the hug is seemingly small, it can have huge implications depending on the child.
“It is about autonomy and consent,” according to parenting expert Dr. Deborah Gilboa. “Kids need to learn that ‘no’ is an OK thing to say and expect that people will listen.”
7 Reasons Why You Should Never Force Your Child to Hug Anyone
One article on The Body Is Not an Apology outlines seven eye-opening reasons that may help you understand the logic behind Diana Spalding’s (and many other parents’) belief that forcing your kid to hug someone can do more harm than good.
- It teaches your child that they don’t have control over their own bodies.
- It implies that you (or adults in general) have the right to touch your child how they want and when they want.
- It tells them that relatives can’t be abusers.
- It disregards your child’s comfort zone.
- It risks dismantling their natural, healthy sense of stranger danger.
- It ignores any important, subtle cues your child is trying to tell you.
- It sends the message that hugging (or physical contact in general) is the only way to show affection or appreciation for another person.
We understand that some of those points may be extreme. But, many of you would agree that, when it comes to your children, that’s not a risk you ever want to take.
What to Do If a Child Doesn’t Want to Hug You
Reading those rules is actually a lesson in affection – and the fact that showing affection does not always have to be physical. So, the next time your child doesn’t want to hug someone or you’re the one who has been declined a hug… try these:
- Offer a high-five, fist-bump, or handshake
- Show them a picture or video of something they’re interested in
- Have a conversation with them and ask lots of question
- Play an instrument, game, or sport with them
There are numerous ways to give and receive affection without the potential discomfort caused by physical interactions. We hope these help you to foster even healthier child-adult relationships moving forward if you happen to know a child who just isn’t comfortable with those family-friendly hugs or kisses.
 Spalding, D. (2018, June 12). Here’s why I will never force my kids to hug anyone. Retrieved from https://www.mother.ly/child/heres-why-i-will-never-force-my-kids-to-hug-anyone
 Why We Don’t Force Our Kids To Give Hugs –. (2017, November 21). Retrieved from https://www.scarymommy.com/why-we-dont-force-our-kids-to-give-hugs/
 Holohan, M. (2017, November 20). Is it ever OK to force your kids to hug relatives? Experts say no. Retrieved from https://www.today.com/parents/why-it-s-never-ok-parents-force-kids-hug-adults-t118863
 James, J. S. (2018, July 06). 7 Reasons Why You Should Never Force Your Child to Hug Anyone. Retrieved from https://thebodyisnotanapology.com/magazine/your-child-should-never-be-forced-to-hug-anyone-yes-including-a-relative-here-are-7-reasons-why-2/