Parenting Debate: Should You Force Your Kids to Hug Relatives During the Holidays?


By Suzanne Zuckerman for PureWow

The holidays are filled with good tidings of comfort and joy—and awkward hugs. Think about it: Your husband’s cousin from Chicago may seem hug-worthy to you (how fun was he at your wedding?!), but to your kids, he’s a total stranger—with facial hair no less. And if you’re anything like us, you’ve been talking to them for years about “good touching and bad touching.” But is letting children bolt at the sight of a bearded stranger giving them the necessary tools for civility? And are we wrapping something innocent in cynicism and fear instead of tinsel and ribbon? Well, plenty of parenting experts say bodily autonomy and consent take priority over potentially offending an adult. Dreaming of a controversy-free Christmas? Better luck next year. Here, the two sides of the coin.


To New York Post columnist Karol Markowicz, labeling familial hugs as dangerous seems patently absurd: “Turning snuggles with grandpa into something sinister, and comparing it to horrific abuse…is a real problem,” she writes. “As unwanted touching continues to consume our media cycles, it’s a great time to educate kids on the differences between sexual and non-sexual touching and kissing. Lumping all affection into one jumbled ball only blurs the lines. Not everyone is a predator, in fact most people are not, and teaching kids to live in a world where they fear anyone can hurt them at any time is deeply unhealthy… Don’t sexualize innocent interactions and don’t make your kids afraid of everyone. Encouraging them to be affectionate with the important people in their lives will only brighten the line between appropriate and inappropriate touching for the time in life when they actually are autonomous.”


The American Academy of Pediatrics takes a clear stance:  “Do not force your children to give hugs or kisses to people they do not want to. It is their right to tell even grandma or grandpa that they do not want to give them a kiss or a hug goodbye… Constantly reinforce the idea that their body is their own, and they can protect it.” In fact, forced hugs could give kids—and girls in particular—“the wrong idea about consent and physical affection,” writes The Girl Scouts of America in a blog post entitled “Reminder: She Doesn’t Owe Anyone a Hug. Not Even at the Holidays.” They quote developmental psychologist Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald: “The notion of consent may seem very grown-up and like something that doesn’t pertain to children. But the lessons girls learn when they’re young about setting physical boundaries and expecting them to be respected last a lifetime, and can influence how she feels about herself and her body as she gets older. Plus, sadly, we know that some adults prey on children, and teaching your daughter about consent early on can help her understand her rights, know when lines are being crossed, and when to go to you for help.” Why not apply this to our sons as well? And to anyone who suggests that withholding hugs is rude? Tell them you’re helping your kids perfect a strong handshake; the better to prepare them for the boardroom and the campaign trail.