‘Tis the season for family gatherings. Some of us will be traveling to visit relatives or hosting a holiday event ourselves. Me? I’m heading to Florida later in the month to see my folks, my brother and sister, their kids, extended family, the whole shebang. Chances are your family gathering may also include some children – children you’re meeting for the first time, children you haven’t seen for a year, maybe children of your own.

This blog is an appeal to help lower the social pressure on the children at your social gatherings.

What social pressure?

Kids are often told to hug relatives hello, hug relatives goodbye, to “go kiss grandma,” etc. Some kids don’t want any part of those rituals. Yet if they say no, it’s considered rude.

As a child, there were lots of times I would seek out physical connection. (My sister and I used to trade back scratches which I still love!) But at family events, when I was ordered to stop what I was doing and kiss or hug a relative, I can’t remember one time where I was like, “Yeah, that’s exactly what I feel like doing right now.” Quite the opposite.

What Does it Matter?

Children learn so much through experience. Repeated lessons drive those lessons home. What does a child learn when told to touch an adult when they really don’t want to? Here’s what I learned:

I learned that grown-ups have authority over whether I am touched or not. I learned that the desires of grown-ups are deemed more important than my own preferences when it comes to touch. Yuck.

These lessons didn’t support my having healthy physical boundaries as I grew into an adult. I said yes to touch that was unwanted because I didn’t have the experience, esteem and skills to do otherwise. It created some miserable experiences for me, and it appears I’m not the only one! An internet search on the subject resulted in scores of articles like this one by CNN and this one from The Guardian and this one from Huffington Post.

That’s why I feel this matters.

I’m going to a holiday party. What could I do differently?

Ask the child what she prefers

If the child is yours, rather than, “Go hug Cousin Steve,” try, “Ariele, would you like to give Cousin Steve a hug hello?”

(If you are Cousin Steve, notice if the child is reticent and help her with an option that’s more comfortable.)

Offer less contact

I like this better. If the kid clearly doesn’t want a hug, don’t freak out. Just offer her or him another option. One with less body contact.

“Ariele, would you like to give Cousin Steve a hug hello? No? How about a high five?”

Offer no physical contact as an option

I like this best! Be ready with a “no touch” option.

“Sam, would you wave good-bye to Aunt Sylvia?”

“Christine, here’s Uncle Dave. Say hello!”

Be ready to back the child up

If a little one is being chastised because they won’t hug you, say, “It’s totally okay – I respect his boundaries.” Smile and move the conversation along.

Anything Else?

Yep! If you’d like support on setting your own boundaries this holiday season, I recommend Fei’s informative post, “3 Ways to Get Better at Saying “No.” I’ll be back in touch with you later this month –  from the beach in sunny South Florida! Until then, may your holidays be bright, merry and filled with affection.



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