Why I Won’t Force My Kids To Give Hugs Anymore

I stumbled across a thread on Twitter a couple of days ago that has really stuck with me. It’s been on my mind and has forced me to examine a topic I would really rather avoid but in reality, as a responsible parent, it simply cannot be ignored.

Grooming by sexual predators…

Here is some of the thread in question:

I saw a few people I follow on Twitter start to talk about this thread and to be honest, it was quite eye opening for me too. 

And then he tweeted this, which made him lose all credibility in my eyes, but that doesn’t discount the obvious discomfort he’d already shared. 

But that’s a post for another day….

It did get me thinking though….

And after a bit of googling and research, I see there is a social movement that is along similar lines as my own thoughts. You can see the results here. But a lot of experts and parents are starting to feel that we shouldn’t be encouraging/forcing our kids to dish out love and affection in situations where they are uncomfortable. 

The first thing that struck me…

About the entire thread and theme in general is that as a society, or certainly, as myself, often we/I don’t want to make a scene, so we/I grin and bare it. Many of the children and adults in the Twitter thread seemed visibly uncomfortable but very few actually did anything about it. We’re so aware as a society about being polite and not “making a scene”. 

The second thing I couldn’t stop thinking about was..

How by forcing our kids to be polite and show affection to people or in situations where they are not comfortable, surely, this would be aiding in the grooming process for a predator? Teaching them to just grin and bare it in situations where they are uncomfortable, instead of speaking up and saying, don’t touch me, I don’t like it?

And I’m not alone in this sentiment:

A CNN article entitled I Don’t Own My Child’s Body that explores these questions is the subject of lively discussion here. Katia Hetter, its author, asserts that, “Forcing children to touch people when they don’t want to leaves them vulnerable to sexual abusers, most of whom are people known to the children they abuse.”

Assuming that giving Grandma a kiss on the cheek could have anything at all to do with the sexual abuse of a child might seem crazy at first blush, but Nichole M. feels Hetter’s connection makes perfect sense. “You’re violating their comfort zone and the kids may learn to accept anyone into those uncomfortable spaces.” Lisa E. also agrees, and shares how she’s teaching her own son about respecting his body and his own physical space:

“The boundary we’re teaching our child is to listen to his own ‘gut feeling.’ He tells us whenever he feels uncomfortable around someone (usually whispering so he doesn’t hurt feelings). He never has to touch or be touched if he feels uncomfortable — family or otherwise. I will never force him to kiss anyone — even if a great aunt is visiting who may get her feelings hurt. Hugs and kisses are his to give and are not compulsory.”

The third thing I couldn’t stop thinking about…

Is the mixed messages we send kids who become adults. As children we teach them they must hug and kiss everyone. Then as adults, we tell them their bodies are their own, they should be respected and treated with care. Such a mix message. My children’s bodies where their own from the time they were born. They have complete autonomy over their bodies, this includes who they want to kiss and cuddle. 

And then I started thinking about it all in the context of my own children….

Hannah is a hugger. She’s a cuddler. She loves it. Whenever we visit family or friends, she’ll rush into their arms and give them big loves and cuddles.

Ava is the polar opposite. She does not dish out physical affection freely to anyone except her dad and I. When we visit with family and friends and someone says: Hello Ava, give me a hug! She will actually run away. This has become somewhat of a game for everyone. They land up chasing her around the car, laughing. And I always thought it was cute and funny until I followed this Twitter thread. Now I’m actually starting to see that she’s uncomfortable. And that’s ok. If she’s uncomfortable, then she shouldn’t have to do it.

So please family and friends, if you’re reading this.  The next time you see us, if one or both of my children don’t want to hug you, know that I respect their choice not to and I would ask that you please do the same. It’s not a slight. It’s not anything other than my child showing her personal boundaries and I won’t force her to cross them. 

What are your thoughts on this whole theme? Have you given it much thought? 

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  • Jonelle du Pont
    Reply Jonelle du Pont

    So weirdly this link takes me here…

    November 22, 2017 at 8:16 pm
  • Jonelle du Pont
    Reply Jonelle du Pont

    Is it my phone? I totally agree with not forcing kids to give hugs. To the point where I even ask Oden for a hug and if he says no I respect that. I want him to know he’s always free to choose. The world is too ugly.

    November 22, 2017 at 8:17 pm
  • Leigh Reabow
    Reply Leigh Reabow

    Hi Sharon this is very close to my heart. Grooming is a scary scary thing! I just completed a course called Protective Behaviour and it is incredible. It’s a life skills workshop for kids as young as 4. Teaches them skills to protect themselves against grooming etc but in a fun, way. I am starting to roll it out in my area next year but will find out if there is anyone in joberg Who does it x

    November 22, 2017 at 8:29 pm
    • The Blessed Barrenness
      Reply The Blessed Barrenness

      Thanks Leigh! It’s quite scary! And I feel like we send our kids such mixed messages:

      November 22, 2017 at 8:30 pm
    • Leigh Reabow
      Reply Leigh Reabow

      totally agree and the scariest part is that the sickos know this and used to to their advantage.

      November 22, 2017 at 8:32 pm
    • The Blessed Barrenness
      Reply The Blessed Barrenness

      Leigh Reabow Exactly!

      November 22, 2017 at 8:32 pm
  • Pieter le Roux
    Reply Pieter le Roux

    Prosecute the bastard!

    November 22, 2017 at 8:30 pm
  • Reply Shaveh

    When my oldest was just starting to talk, 9 years ago – she would turn her head away from people and say, “I don’t do kisses”. I had to gently explain to everyone hat she doesn’t kiss and that’s ok. My second one has needed coaching on that she can only sit in Daddy’s lap, unless she is comfortable to cuddle with grandpa. I discourage “familiar” interactions with people in general – men or women (our world is that sick) I encourage polite verbal greeting but physical boundaries have been important. I keep an eye on every interaction I can and coach them on what’s appropriate and what isn’t. Even amongst themselves as siblings. Their bodies are theirs and so do bodies belong to the person. I started in the potty training and bath time process. I can wash your body but you do your private parts because they’re yours nobody else. Respect yours first as well as others – and don’t be afraid to say you’re uncomfortable or not want to do something. It won’t make me angry, we can talk it through and see why and deal with the “feels”. I know it’s a lot, but it’s been 9 years of coaching. I have 2 girls and a boy.each are different and that’s ok. Tough to coach, but ok.

    November 22, 2017 at 10:14 pm
  • Frieda Tweehuysen
    Reply Frieda Tweehuysen

    I don’t have a child but this keeps coming up on my timelines. It is scary to think that this is how we, unknowingly, aid abusers.

    November 23, 2017 at 7:48 am
  • Reply Carly Clarke

    As a child I did not enjoy hugging and kissing anyone ( still do that as an adult ) and my late father’s sister always said I was disrespectful and rude ( she was the only one who had a problem with it ) she didn’t realise my stepmom would stand up for me no matter what and she didn’t say anything to me again luckily we live in different cities so we don’t ever see each other(thankfully ) . My eldest is a hugger he loves it my daughter is like me and I am so happy people are more understanding than when I was growing up . 🙂

    November 23, 2017 at 8:08 am
  • Raylene De Villiers
    Reply Raylene De Villiers

    Thank you Sharon you have made me think differently

    November 23, 2017 at 9:34 am
  • Reply Belinda (@BelindaMountain)

    I also saw that thread and took a lot from it – will never force my kids to hug or make physical contact with anyone they don’t want to. They must make eye contact and say hello (because manners) – but their bodies should be their own.

    November 23, 2017 at 11:59 am
  • Reply Susan

    Yes! Thank you for this. Those video clips are just plain creepy. Especially the last one where he doesn’t stop stroking that girl’s hair or face. I very recently had a discussion with my psychologist about just this topic. You’re right, we don’t want to make a fuss and tell someone to back off if we feel they are acting inappropriately or not respecting our child’s (or our) boundaries, but the example we are setting for our children is that keeping quiet or freezing up is the right way to act. For example, we recently had a bit of a creepy incident in a shopping center where a very friendly old man was walking behind us and chatting with my daughter asking whether that was an elephant toy she was carrying and saying he has videos of elephants on his phone. We are used to people chatting to her and being friendly and she is a very bubbly, friendly child, but that man creeped my husband and I out. We just ignored him and popped into the closest shop. We both commented afterwards on how creepy he was. But in analysing the situation with my psychologist later I came to realise that by not saying anything because we didn’t want to seem rude or make a fuss we are teaching our daughter that keeping quiet is better. I resolved that day that from now on I will not keep quiet anymore. I need to teach her to be firm and to say ‘back off’. To make it very clear when she is receiving unwanted attention. And while she is still so young, the best way to do that is to set the example when I feel the attention is inappropriate. I will no longer spare other people’s feelings. My daughter’s come first. My instinct when I’m uncomfortable is always to freeze and keep quiet and I need to change that.

    November 23, 2017 at 1:16 pm
  • Reply Heather

    Very disturbing and true. Makes me think about the battles I have had in getting Nicky to greet people. Might be different though. But he should greet because he wants to, not because I’m forcing him to.

    November 23, 2017 at 1:28 pm
  • Cassandra Simmonds
    Reply Cassandra Simmonds

    Agree with this 100%

    November 23, 2017 at 1:32 pm
  • Claire Garcia-Cloete
    Reply Claire Garcia-Cloete

    Food for thought!!

    November 23, 2017 at 2:47 pm
  • Reply MrsFF

    My child loves to give hugs but on her own terms. We don’t force her to hug anyone never have and won’t start now. Gone are the days when it was thought that predators were strangers now we know it could be anyone. We were at Grandma a few months ago and she demanded a kiss and a hug …. my child’s response I don’t have to grandma… proud Mama moment, I smiled knowingly and told Grandma we are teaching her to say no and even we only get kisses on her own terms (which means when she has been eating snort , disgusting child)

    November 24, 2017 at 5:45 am
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