My Child Doesn't Like to Be Touched: Why?

If your child doesn't like to be touched, you must understand why, respect them, and learn to demonstrate affection in different ways. Here's why.
My Child Doesn't Like to Be Touched: Why?
Elena Sanz Martín

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz Martín.

Last update: 20 November, 2022

We all have a hard time imagining a child who refuses physical contact. Generally, we think of little ones as tender, loving, and attached creatures who need and enjoy kisses, hugs, and caresses from their parents. But this isn’t necessarily true in all cases. If your child doesn’t like to be touched, you should explore in depth what the possible causes are.

First of all, it’s important to remember that it’s not usually a serious problem. Rather, it’s the personal preferences of each child, as well as the evolutionary moment they’re going through, that will determine how likely they are to accept these expressions of love. However, it’s important to understand why it happens to ensure that you offer the child what they need in order to grow and develop without emotional deficiencies.

My child doesn’t like to be touched and has always been like that

The temporality is one of the points that can bring us more clarity in this situation. That is, has your child always been reluctant to accept physical contact, or is it only in recent times? If they’ve never sought or particularly enjoyed physical expressions of affection, this trait may be part of their temperament.

This is an innate, inherited tendency that we’re born with and isn’t due to any parenting mistakes. It’s simply the way the child is. In this regard, it’s important to remember that each person’s love languages are different and each child may have a preferred way of expressing and receiving love that doesn’t necessarily have to be kisses and hugs.

A child refusing to be touched by her mother.
It’s common for children between 3 and 6 years of age to be more autonomous and independent and to reject physical contact.

Pay attention to the developmental stage they’re in

If a child who used to be affectionate and attached stops being so, it’s a good idea to analyze what stage of development they’re going through at this time. It may be a sign that they’re in the process of discovering and constructing their individual identity, so they want to explore and move away from adult control to some extent.

Also, as infants grow older, their inner world becomes more complex, and self-conscious emotions emerge. This may lead them to become less spontaneous and more shameful. Sometimes this will involve not wanting to be touched. It can happen especially if they’re in the presence of their peer group, as they’ll want to show that they’re “older”. However, this isn’t a reaction you should be concerned about.

They haven’t learned to receive physical displays of affection

If your child doesn’t like to be touched, you should also consider whether you as a parent may have had any influence in this regard. Some children are simply not used to physical contact because they haven’t received it very often. We adults also have our own love language and there are parents who aren’t prone to caressing, kissing, or touching their children. Their way of expressing affection is different, but this makes it more difficult for children to receive such physical gestures with ease.

Emotional causes

It’s also possible that this behavior responds to an emotional difficulty that the child’s going through. For example, the recent birth of a sibling and the associated jealousy may lead to this behavior. Similarly, if they’ve been hurt or offended by their parents, or if they feel they’re not getting the attention they need, they may adopt this attitude to express what they don’t yet know how to put into words. This is their way of showing displeasure, disagreement, or sadness that they can’t manage in a better way.

A little girl and her mother both sitting on the couch with their arms crossed.
If the child doesn’t want to be touched, it’s best to respect their decision and not force the situation. It’s also important to be able to understand them, rather than trying to convince them or getting angry with them.

What can I do if my child doesn’t like to be touched?

The steps to take will depend on the specific case and what the underlying reasons are for the refusal of physical contact. However, here are some important guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Respect the child’s emotions and choices. If they don’t want to be kissed or hugged, don’t force them. Accept their refusal and don’t try to manipulate them, make them feel bad, blackmail them, or threaten them by withdrawing your affection or getting angry with them. Don’t take it personally and try to look at it from their perspective.
  • Learn to express love in other ways. Whether it’s a one-time developmental moment or a recurring situation, remember that you can show affection in other ways to keep your child feeling loved and supported. Encouraging words, recognition, or quality time are good alternatives.
  • Address and resolve any emotional causes that may be related. If you think your child refuses physical contact because they feel sad, angry, or neglected, help them express what ails them, understand it, and name it. And, of course, do whatever you can to change the dynamic that’s hurting your child.

All children need to be loved

In short, it’s common for some children at some times to not want to be touched. This doesn’t mean that they have a developmental condition or that they don’t need love. All little ones need to feel safe, accepted, and loved, so rather than forcing them into something they don’t want or enjoy, it’s preferable to adjust our behavior to their needs.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Chapman, G., & Campbell, R. (2016). The 5 Love Languages of children: The Secret to loving children effectively. Moody Publishers.
  • Etxebarria, I. (2003). Las emociones autoconscientes: culpa, vergüenza y orgullo. EG Fernández-Abascal, MP Jiménez y MD Martín (Coor.). Motivación y emoción. La adaptación humana, 369-393.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.