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The holidays are here – time for family get-togethers, friend drop-ins, and fun holiday traditions.

This season can quickly become hectic, too.  Work becomes busier, obligations to family and friends quickly pile up, and somehow you must find the perfect gift for your favorite people.

During this busy time of holiday events and influx of visitors, it’s important to stay vigilant and talk to your kids about boundaries and body autonomy. Children have different personalities, some are more affectionate than others and that’s OK. We’ve all seen these personalities in action: a squirmy kid trying to get out of a hug or the kid who loves to hug everyone they meet.

As adults, it’s important for us to let kids have a choice about their bodies and how they use them – this teaches them from a young age about consent and can be protective against sexual abuse. It teaches children that they have the choice and can say no to authority figures, older youth, or anyone who makes them feel uncomfortable. If we want to comfort a child or reach out, it’s important we ask them if it’s OK first. “I’d love to give you a hug! Is that OK?” This tells the child they have a right to physical boundaries and ownership of their body.

So what happens when you have family or friends that may not be aware they should ask before showing physical affection? Won’t it be awkward? When you hear things like, “Come give your Aunt Anne a hug” or “I haven’t seen you in so long, come give your favorite Grandpa a kiss,” what do you do? This is an important time to show your kids you support them. As the trusted adult, you can intervene and politely let your family and friends know that your kids decide how they’d like to show affection. A healthy response might be, “Actually Dad, the kids prefer high-fives instead.” This will not only show your kids that you support them but also tell other adults that you reinforce their boundaries.

Even as parents, asking permission before hugging them shows your kids that it’s okay to say no, even to you. This gift of choice could be one of the best gifts you give them this holiday season.

Our friends at BuzzFeed put it best in these fun graphics, 8 People Your Kid Doesn’t HAVE to Hug

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5 responses to “Hugging is a Choice

  1. This message is super important and I totally understand how it feels. However, many people become offended when you do not want to hug them or your child dislikes doing this. I can recall being forced to do this as a child and also being hugged as an adult and feeling violated by it. A friend grabbed me once and gave me a full-body hug at a time in my life when I hated being touched. I reacted to it quite negatively and then realised that my friend did not understand my reaction. Although I (later) apologised to her, she never forgave me and we do not talk anymore.

  2. Good article about something I had not considered. I am a Grandma who was dealing with these issues at a time when kids were not given a choice about how to behave. Most adults believed. . . children are to be seen and not heard. Children were expected to behave as directed or else they were consider to be mis-behaving. The world is changing in some positive ways and children are finally being recognized as PEOPLE with their own individual traits and needs. Thanks for the lesson.

  3. This is wonderful. I did this with my children because I remembered being extremely uncomfortable as a child about letting relatives that I barely knew touch me. My mom would urge me to give Aunt Mildred or Uncle Joe a hug or kiss. Yuck!

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