No, My Child Does NOT Have to Hug You and our Hug, Handshake and High Five system that empowers our kids to listen to their bodies but also learn to greet others.
I remember my shy toddler telling me, “No kissing. I no kiss.”
When we first arrived in South America he was only 14 months. We lived on the school campus so we were constantly around what he considered strangers (for him anyone not in our family was a stranger). When greeted by our friends or co-workers he’d hide.
As a mom, his response was always embarrassing for me–he’d look away, grunt and grunt even more if they persisted in getting his attention. Sometimes he’d get to the point of throwing his hands at them. When we moved here, I didn’t realize this would be a difficult task for my shy toddler. Nor did I realize how this was considered utterly rude to others, even if it was coming from a little one.
If you find yourself in another culture that greets differently than what you’re children are comfortable with, get creative.
“No kissing. I no kiss.” he said in his most fiery voice.
When he told me this after another greeting with a co-worker, that’s when I decided I was not going to force my children to give anyone physical affection of any kind. I was not going to coerce any of my boys to greet others with a hug or kiss even if it meant that I would be criticized as a mother. Even if my children would be considered rude kids, in this culture. Yes, I want my boys to know it’s okay to be rude when you’re not safe!
I never imagined that I would be telling my kids, “Yes, I want you to be rude. If you’re not comfortable with what is happening, I want you to be RUDE. I want you to scream. I want you to run and leave them talking to themselves.” That’s what I said to them that day and often since then.
So, I came up with a plan to help them listen to their intuition, to help keep them safe but to still greet others in a way they are most comfortable with. I began by telling my boys before we left the house, that they didn’t ever have to greet anyone with a kiss but I do expect them to greet others with a hello when spoken to. I told them, “You don’t’ have to touch them, have a long conversation with them but I do expect a simple hello.” Then I began coaching them on how to loudly and emphatically say, “NO” when someone is touching them inappropriately.”
Your body is your own body.
Summer and holidays are when we get together most often with extended family and friends. These interactions can quickly become a battle of the will with your child, so this phrase–“Hug, Handshake or High Five.”, became the answer to our dilemma. I still encouraged my boys to greet others but I was also giving them the freedom to listen to their own intuition.
My number one priority is helping my kids understand that it’s okay for them to be rude when needed, to set up boundaries and listen to their intuition. Those boundaries are blurred when I coerce them to do the opposite.
Teaching Kids Boundaries: Hug, Handshake or High Five
Giving our kids options to express and greet others in ways they are comfortable is something I have felt strongly about since we moved to S. America 8 years ago. Thanks to my little guy I was able to see the value in letting them follow their intuition. I do realize that when they are young their intuition maybe a little off base, especially if they just saw a movie where his uncle Tom looks like the villain from the scary movie, but nevertheless it’s important we let them set boundaries. We can redirect them along the way and it may open up some good discussions about safety and how their body is their own.
It’s our job to give our kids the tools to say “NO” and to encourage them to set appropriate physical affection boundaries with friends, family and “strangers”(people you know but they just met).
Here’s the magical phrase that saved the day in our home: “Hug, Handshake or High Five”. This phrase works for kids of any age you can also do a fist bump for older kids.
I’ve been sharing this message with parents since back in the day when I was a school counselor and taught child safety seminars, but it wasn’t until recently, this catchy phrase stuck: Hug, Handshake or High Five. I’ve even heard that some teachers post this on their classroom door and ask their students as they arrive in the morning how they want to be greeted.
Our boys are older now so we expect a bit more from them than when they were toddlers and all they had to do was say hi. Now we ask them to look at the person and greet them. A lot of times they say hi but don’t even acknowledge the person by looking at them which is a pet peeve of mine. But our same rule still applies–no kissing or hugging anyone if they are not comfortable with it. I currently have a preschooler who is on routine #2 from below, so he only greets others with a hello, we are easing him into the next phase.
This phrase works because it gives my boys the freedom to decide what is okay and most people aren’t offended by a high-five or a fist bump. It also allows my boys and encourages my boys to trust their natural danger instincts, they have set for themselves.
But What Do You Do When It’s Just a Battle of the Wills?
Your child may just not be in the mood to hug anyone. There’s no reason for it, other than they just don’t want to have that type of intimate exchange with that person. This is fine and it’s their right. Whatever the reason don’t force them to do something different from the own boundaries they have set up for themselves. We need them to trust their internal natural danger instincts to keep them safe in this world.
When I was forcing my boys to hug others when they didn’t want to, the message I was sending them is “It’s more important not to come across rude than to listen to your own intuition.”
I definitely do NOT want to send this message to my boys. I want them to be able to say “NO” to the distant relative or friend who wants to touch their swimsuit area. Not only to say “NO” but to also run. And if needed not just say to no, run, but also scream.
Yes, son, I want you to be rude, it’s okay to be rude! When you’re in danger, I beg please be rude!
We can give our kids the tools to be their own advocates. Encourage your children to trust their own instincts. It’s important that we give our children the words and freedom to say “NO” even if it’s good ol’ Uncle Tom or the sweet grandma at church. We send double messages to our children when we tell them that no one should force you to kiss them or hug but then as parents we “force” them to kiss or hug Grandma Sue. You know that aunt Lucy is a sweet soul and she will not hurt them, but you still need to respect their wishes and also give them the freedom to listen and trust their intuition, even if it’s off base at the moment.
So, before you leave the house or have guest over, remind your kids:
- 1. They never have to kiss, hug or touch anyone if they’re not comfortable with it.
- 2. But they do need to verbally greet those who address them. We want to find a balance between using their manners and letting them set their own boundaries. You as the parent can choose an appropriate verbal greeting.
These next steps may take some easing into for your shy child but be consistent and encourage them along the way. Try the first two from above for a couple of weeks or months and then ease into these next steps.
- 3. Practice this scenario at home. Have your child verbally greet you (the “guest or extended family member). Then let them know they can choose to hug, give a handshake or a high five. If the person moves forward to hug them, but they’re not comfortable with this, let them know they can move back. Then they can give them a high five or handshake.
- 4. Walk them through this scenario when it happens in real life. If grandma reaches over to kiss your son and he pulls away and draws closer to you, then say out loud so the other person can hear you speaking to your child, “Would you rather give grandma a hug, handshake or high five?” Saying it out loud also helps, so you don’t have to explain to grandma why your child won’t kiss them.
- If you feel the need to say something to the adult, just remember not to apologize for your child’s behavior in front of your child. You can say, “We’re practicing our hugs, handshakes and high five.” When you apologize to your friend in front of your child you’re sending a message that what he’s doing is not okay.
- 5. Then have your child do this on their own. Let them know you are right there with them. Encourage them to give a handshake on their own if they aren’t comfortable with the other greetings.
If you feel like you need to process a particular interaction, ask your child later not in front of the person. This will help you and your child explore and get a bit more details on why they feel this way. But again don’t make them feel bad for not kissing grandma just listen and assure them. I highly recommend role-playing a situation before you leave the house.
Please note, that our Hug, Handshake and High five routine is in reference to safe people and not people who are trying to hurt them with their words or actions. We have a whole different routine for unsafe people or tricky people (people we thought were safe but turns out they are not).
related article: 10 Things Your Child Should Know to Stay Safe from Predators
What do you do when your child refuses to greet others?