Holidays and family get-togethers are a time for yummy food, sweet traditions, funny stories, and lots and lots of love. But they could, without you even realizing it, also be a time when your daughter gets the wrong idea about consent and physical affection.
Have you ever insisted, “Uncle just got here—go give him a big hug!” or “Auntie gave you that nice toy, go give her a kiss,” when you were worried your child might not offer affection on her own? If yes, you might want to reconsider the urge to do that in the future.
Think of it this way, telling your child that she owes someone a hug either just because she hasn’t seen this person in a while or because they gave her a gift can set the stage for her questioning whether she “owes” another person any type of physical affection when they’ve bought her dinner or done something else seemingly nice for her later in life….
…Give your girl the space to decide when and how she wants to show affection. Of course, many children may naturally want to hug and kiss family members, friends, and neighbors, and that’s lovely—but if your daughter is reticent, don’t force her. Of course, this doesn’t give her license to be rude! There are many other ways to show appreciation, thankfulness, and love that don’t require physical contact. Saying how much she’s missed someone or thank you with a smile, a high-five, or even an air kiss are all ways she can express herself, and it’s important that she knows she gets to choose which feels most comfortable to her.
Your Ethics Alarms Thanksgiving Ethics Quiz:
Is this responsible advice, or does it go too far?
I’ll go first.
It goes too far.
It is classic risk-averse zealotry,though. Because a small minority of men sexually abuse or otherwise misuse women, everyone’s family needs to minimize signs of affection and physical contact. I love the “this doesn’t give her license to be rude!” line, as if it eliminates the way many of the refusals to give hugs and kisses to relatives will be inevitably received.
“Come on, give grandma a hug!”
“I’m sorry, I don’t want to hug you. (I find you repulsive.) How about a high five?“
I grew up in Boston, with a father who hated physical signs of affections (he wrote letters—I don’t think he ever hugged me once) and a mother with a big Greek family in which hugs and kisses were mandatory. I hated being hugged and kissed on holidays, but I did it. I did it because my parents made it clear that it was the polite thing to do, and that I would hurt feelings if I refused. My sister, in contrast, was always ornery, and if she didn’t want to hug a relative, she didn’t. She didn’t even though she knew this hurt feelings at family gatherings; you could see it on their faces.
The Girl Scouts want a system through which it will become crystal clear which relatives a child likes or loves, and which they don’t, and in which everyone at a family gathering will know who the unpopular pariahs are, as they are openly humiliated by 8-year-olds who treat them like they have ebola.
Nice. And all because of Harvey Weinstein and Roy Moore.
Older people often derive a great deal of pleasure from being shown affection, even just obligatory, formal affection, by small kids. There is nothing wrong with explaining this to children, and most should be able to understand it. The hugging convention is a matter of kindness and civility, that’s all. I don’t view promoting that social balm as forcing a child to kiss or hug someone. If your daughter doesn’t want to hug Aunt Sally because she’s fat and smells like onions, you don’t force her…but you have a conversation with her later. The Girl Scout’s presumed nexus between hugging grandpa after he’s given you a Christmas present and performing fellatio on a boss who gave you a promotion is a major leap, and one that I am not convinced is warranted.
By the way, are only girls to have an opt out from icky relative hugs and kisses?