I Bribe My Kid So She'll Show Affection

group hug
Group hug!
I keep hearing about the day my kid will start witholding affection from friends, and it fills me with dread. I'd like to say "not my kid," but I'm already seeing the signs. Her grandmother calls, and she won't get on the phone. We visit my grandfather, and she doesn't want to go anywhere near him.

So I have opted to do the only thing I know will work. I bribe my kid to show affection.


Not all the time. For the most part, if she doesn't WANT to turn it on right this second, I give her a pass. As CNN's Katie Hetter said in an article about her daughter's cuddle strikes just this week, "I figure her body is actually hers, not mine."

I couldn't agree more. We spend all this time teaching our kids to avoid "bad touch," with words like "your body is your own." Forcing them into a hug or a kiss is confusing and sort of cruel.

Which is why I won't force her to make an old man feel loved with a hug or get on the phone to talk to her grandmother when she's really not in the mood. But I will throw in a little enticement to sweeten the deal. If she takes it, that's her choice, right?

I firmly believe that part of growing up is realizing that sometimes we do things we don't exactly "want" to do for someone else's pleasure. Not always, but sometimes ...

Any good relationship requires give and take. My husband goes to the farmers' market with on a Sunday (which he hates). I make him meatloaf for dinner even though I'm a vegetarian.

For kids, more often than not, all it takes to make someone else happy is a little of their time. My 90-something-year-old grandfather would be heartbroken to know that his great-granddaughter doesn't want to give him a hug. And so I ask. And then I offer a trip to the ice cream stand or a new magazine. I won't put up anything I wouldn't give her otherwise, but I do need to make it "worth" the sacrifice if she's going to bite.

If she doesn't bite, I drop it. There's only so much I can push. But that doesn't mean I won't try again another day.

I try because I want her to see the pleasure she can give other people by putting herself out just a little bit, but I want to balance it. I don't want her to feel tortured. The bribe -- or maybe I should just call it a reward -- is what eases it for her. She isn't "tortured" because she had the choice, and she gets something good out of it.

And so does the person on the other end. The grandmother who gets to hear her granddaughter's voice after a long, hard day at work. The old man who gets a kiss on his papery cheek.

Her body is her own, but that doesn't mean she can't learn to use it for good.

What are your rules when your kids don't want to hug, kiss, or talk to someone?


Image by Jeanne Sager

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