Don't Force Children to Show Affection

Don't do it. Don't force children to show affection to others if they don't want to or if it makes them uncomfortable. Learn more.
Don't Force Children to Show Affection
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 22 December, 2021

Don’t do it. Don’t force children to show affection to others with kisses, hugs, or the like if they don’t want to or if it makes them uncomfortable. It’s going against their will by making them believe that they’re not in charge of their own bodies. Because remember: Affection can’t be imposed. Rather, it must be born in a free, spontaneous, and desired way. Never imposed.

Many of us, even in adulthood, have the odd uncomfortable memory in our minds about this same topic. Our fathers and mothers forced us to kiss that aunt that we’d never seen before, that cousin we didn’t like so much, or that neighbor we simply didn’t want to approach.

It’s such a popular social behavior in our daily lives that we hardly question it or give it any importance. And we don’t do it for several reasons: First, because in our cultures it’s an act of courtesy: We hug, we kiss, we shake hands, and we start talking. In our desire to introduce the little ones to these social behaviors, it’s common for us to force them to do so from childhood, to stand on their tiptoes in order to kiss or to be kissed.

However, it’s not a pleasant experience for many children. They just don’t want that closeness, nor do they want to be kissed or caressed by people they don’t know or who make them uncomfortable. So… why do we do it? Why do we insist on it? In “You are Mom” we suggest you reflect on the subject so that you can also offer us your opinion.

Kisses should be given freely, not by force

A baby girl looking suspiciously over her shoulder.

Consider for a moment the kind of message we’re giving to our children when we force them to kiss our coworker whom they’ve never seen before. Imagine how a little shy child feels when their parents urge them with those classic phrases like “Come on, I told you to give them a kiss, what are you waiting for?”

  • That boy or that girl who’s forced to hug or kiss someone thinks that their body isn’t their own, that they don’t have a say, and that they must obey when offering signs of affection whether they feel like it or not.
  • It’s not the right thing to do. So much so, that it can leave small consequences for our children when they feel violated and used.
  • Also, and here comes the dangerous thing, a child may think that they have no voice or say. That it’s what adults ask of you that counts and that it should be done regardless of your own wishes.

It’s not the right thing to do. Something that seems silly actually contains many nuances.

My body is mine

CAPS Hauraki is a New Zealand association that fights against child abuse and, in turn, plays an interesting role in advising families.

  • Very recently, they started an interesting campaign with a very specific purpose: To make parents aware of the need not to force children to kiss those they don’t want to.
  • We have to understand that children are at a stage where they’re learning what’s called consent.
  • When it comes to physical contact, little ones should understand as soon as possible that their body is theirs. No one has the right to touch them without their permission, no one can or should force them to do something they don’t want in this intimate aspect.
A little girl giving a woman a kiss on the nose.

From this association, for example, they speak of the bad experience that some children go through at Christmas time when they’re forced to sit on Santa Claus’s lap even though he scares them or they don’t want to. Not all children will experience it in the same way, but for some, having to sit on the knees of a stranger is something very unpleasant.

Set an example without imposing

There are parents who continue to think that their children are their property and that, for this reason, they can force them to do almost anything that for them is apparently the right thing to do.

However, we must be clear: Your child isn’t your property, they’re your RESPONSIBILITY, and therefore, you must be sensitive to their needs and respect their decisions.

  • If they don’t want to kiss certain relatives, friends, or strangers, don’t force it on them. Never do it or you’ll be manipulating their physical integrity by making them believe that they can’t refuse.
  • Your best option is simply to lead by example. Let them see what the rules of courtesy are like, how we greet each other, how we say goodbye, etc. Allow them to see you and allow them to voluntarily approach others for a hug or kiss if they want.
A baby puckering his lips.

If your child doesn’t want to be kissed or hugged, make a simple suggestion: Shake hands. And if they don’t like this alternative, they can also simply wave or say hello. This way, you’re respecting your child’s physical boundaries while also encouraging politeness.

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