Kids Kissing Kids: When Should You Worry?

Every year, on every playground, no matter where you are, there's one kid who's a serial kisser. He or she chases after the other kids (or sometimes one kid in particular) and plants one on them -- a big wet sloppy kiss. Squeals and giggles may follow. It's an age-old game. The problem is, there's often an unwilling participant. And not every parent is ready for their kid to be kissed -- no matter how "innocent" it seems.

"While some children do struggle with impulse control challenges, others are just curious or have seen this behavior modeled," says Fran Walfish, PhD, a Beverly Hills psychotherapist. "A kid may also kiss another kid -- a provocative boy, for example -- to irritate him."

Whatever the motivation behind the kiss, "It's just not appropriate to kiss other kids on the playground," says Fallyn Smith, LMSW, director of Social Success in Burlingame, California. 


So what's a mom to do?

If your child is the kisser, a lesson on personal space is in order. Let him know that everyone needs breathing room to feel safe and comfortable. "Children should be taught about personal space as soon they can understand the concept -- beginning around age 2," says Smith. An overly affectionate child needs to learn phrases to better approach his friends or classmates. For example, "Can I give you a hug?" "May I hold your hand?" Giving guidelines for affection -- where it is acceptable, who is appropriate -- is critical.

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The key is to help your child understand why personal space is important through role-play and to reinforce school rules through conversations at home. Use a hoola hoop to give him a visual for the "space bubble" he shouldn't pass. "Some kids struggle with personal space for a variety of reasons, including lack of self control, lack of development of gross motor skills, and lack of attention span," says Smith.

The same goes for hugging, which is even more common on the playground. All kids love hugging and may struggle with the "no touch" policies many schools are implementing to protect against liability issues. "Both boys and girls adore hugging and putting their arms around each other," says Walfish. "Girls tend to do this more in preschool, kindergarten, first, and second grades while boys tend to throw their 'buddy' arms around each other more during the third, fourth, and fifth grades."

If your child is being kissed or touched against his will, teach him to use his words. Smith says it's important to teach your child about the power of using his words as soon as he can speak. That way, he's more confident when he reaches elementary school and wants to protect his personal space. The following phrases are effective, but respectful of the offending classmate: "Please move." "Stop touching me, please." "I don't like it when you hug me."

Remind your child she is in control of her body and has the choice to move. "We don't want children to seek out an adult every time someone enters their personal space," says Smith. "But you have to give them the tools first before you can expect them to use them. I encourage parents to role-play and reflect. This is how children will build their skills."

Does it bother you when another child kisses or hugs your child?


Image via © Monalyn Gracia/Corbis

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