How to Handle Kids Who Won't Kiss or Hug Relatives ​​

bashful toddler

Few moments are as awkward as taking a trip to see grandma  -- or some other far-flung relative who's chomping at the bit smother your toddler in affection -- only to find out your child isn't up for affection of any kind. Instead, when your child hears said relative bellow, "give me a hug!" he clings to your hand; or recoils at a request for a kiss. Not exactly a great start to a family gathering!

Bu while you may be tempted to nudge your child to show a little love just to avoid hurt feelings, experts say you should respect your child's desire to draw some boundaries -- with relatives or otherwise.


"It is incredibly important not to force children to engage in physical affection when they aren't comfortable," says Kelly Tonelli, Psy.D., a psychologist in Irvine, California. The reason: "This is a cornerstone in teaching children that their bodies are their own and that they do not have to hug or kiss just because someone, even a relative, is pressuring them."

That way, if, some day, your child encounters someone with, ahem, less than noble motives for snuggling with him, he'll know it's his right to say no. 

This is not to say that your child should get away with giving long-lost relatives the stink-eye and stand at arm's length -- or that you should stand by helplessly and try to laugh it off, either. Instead, try to prep your child for what will likely happen during greetings and good-byes beforehand so you can decide on a plan of action together, rather than blindside the child (which is rarely good for bashful sorts).

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"Tell your toddler, 'Aunt Sarah may want a kiss hello/goodbye, and ask the child what he would like to do," says Tonelli. "It's okay to blow a kiss, say goodbye, or even high five, but it needs to be something the child is willing to do."

You should stress to your child that it is perfectly fine for him to say, "No, thank you" and wave, as long as he's not rude (for instance, it is not okay to scream, "Yuck, Aunt Sarah's old!").

As a further measure to curb hurt feelings, try to prep your relatives that little Jimmy is not always a big hugger and to not take it personally if he is more physically reserved with them. And if Uncle John does try to bear hug your kid hello and he runs for the hills, don't apologize on your child's behalf -- but do insist that your child at least show him common courtesy with a handshake or wave.

What's the most awkward family moment you've had with your toddler?


Image via Ozgur Coskun/shutterstock


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