Reading an article recently on the damage that can be done when forcing children to hug people against their will, made me think about what we did as kids and now with N. Is encouraging hugging children really that bad? I pondered how things change with personal space and comfortableness in hugging as you get older.
Various research suggests that it’s damaging to force children to ‘go and give Aunty so and so a hug and/or kiss’. The theory being that children should be able to make up their own minds, and that you’re forcing them to give up their personal space and body for someone else’s pleasure and want to have contact with them. There’s also the concern that children end up thinking that they have to do what is asked rather than saying no to things they don’t want to do, in particular in cases of abuse. All understandable although I feel it’s quite extreme to assume it’s all damaging to all children.
Thinking back to when we were children I was a very shy child. I hated hugging and kissing people if it wasn’t what I wanted to do. And I certainly didn’t want to be made to hug random family members – although largely it was just grandparents. I don’t really remember hugging them, but I do remember being encouraged to do so if we’d been to visit or they’d come to us. Even when I was older my mum used to say ‘come and give me a hug/kiss’ and I’d pull a face and do it under duress. My poor mum.
Now I’m a mum, I know that it can feel like your children don’t love you if they’re not willing to come and hug you. Luckily my brother was the opposite to me and was happy to hand out hugs all the time so he made up for my reticence. Thankfully N is the same and doesn’t need asking. He’ll hand out hugs willy nilly to family or even to the after school club staff.
With N, I don’t mention it to him. A thank you or bye is fine for me. Although the OH does say ‘how about a hug for Granny and Gramp’ when he’s been over there. N is always happy to, he’s just usually on a mission out of the door so has forgotten to say bye. You can see how he loves to share his cuddles with others and gets them back. He doesn’t get told to hug other people who visit, although if he’s giving his Gran a hug then he’ll quite often go and give whichever other family member is there at the same time. At 6 years, I’m not sure how much longer he’ll want to do that, but hopefully his open nature will continue.
Did I ever feel hurt by being encouraged to hug people I didn’t want to? I don’t think so. I probably just shied away and avoided it. It was never an order, more like an encouragement. I can see parents wanting children to please grandparents or other family members. Maybe it’s different with us now because N sees his family pretty much daily, whereas we didn’t see ours more than a few times a year.
Years later I can’t even remember circumstances, other than me as a grown up having to hug my mum on the door step as I said goodbye. I loved my mum and was very close to her, but hugging just wasn’t me. I certainly didn’t feel like my personal space or body was being violated, I just didn’t feel I needed to hug people, I was happy to stand back and keep to myself. Hopefully most other children who’re asked to hug also don’t feel it either.Is encouraging children to hug others when they don't want to, really that bad? Click To Tweet
I have to say that while I’m still not a natural touchy feely person, as I’ve got older it does change. I’m less awkward about it – although it very much depends on the other person. I think the longer you know someone, and the less frequently you see friends, it means more hugs take place when you do see them. Maybe I also just know a lot more people who are more into contact than when I was younger. I find that mum friends and blogging friends are more huggers than school friends. I certainly don’t feel I missed out in my youth or that I was particularly pressured. It was more that when I refused, people were disappointed in me. But I was stubborn and once I’d refused to hug there was no point trying to force me. It’s certainly not impacted me into adulthood.
I hope N continues to be a person who’s warm and open to all, without having people take advantage of his open nature. Maybe encouraging children to hug as a way to show love is perfectly fine. Or maybe they need to learn from watching others being warm and close on meeting each other, rather than being forced to do something they don’t want to. As with most things in parenting, mostly child led is best. I just feel it’s sad that things that should be a natural thing to do, like hugging children, becomes frowned on.
How do you feel about children having to hug other people? How did you find it as a child if you were made to hug and kiss a long lost relative?
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