no hugs please

Kids Can Give Hugs or Not…Let Them Set Their Own Boundaries

I’m a hugger.

I’m also a smoocher, a tickler, and enjoy giving “airplanes” to anyone I can lift up. I’m a back rubbing, hand-holding, snuggle up next to people, happily play with your hair kinda gal. In a nutshell, I’m touchy-feely. It’s my nature.

When I was a kid it never occurred to me that anyone wouldn’t like hugs, or that many folks don’t always hug and kiss hello and goodbye.

Somewhere along the way, I learned when and who it was appropriate to hug, cuddle, hold hands with. I also discovered the limits of my own comfort when it comes to touching, and having people touch me.

As I got older I learned about social norms—the cultural and regional differences that play into how we interact with others—and that was how I discovered there were non-huggers everywhere. A lot of them, actually.

I have to admit, it’s always a little weird to meet up with someone who I would be inclined to embrace, but who isn’t really a hugger. We do an odd cha-cha, I’m sure you’re familiar with this dance.

I lean in, they lean back, I pull back, they straighten up. Awkward chuckle. 

More awkward for me, as a very cuddlesome mama, is a significant uptick in not only adults proclaiming they aren’t huggers, but a general concern that some parents are “too lovey” with their kids. Many a night I sit with both my kiddos fighting over who gets my lap, reading tirades about how damaging it is to be a touchy-feely parent.

A while ago there was an uproar about some celebrity mom kissing her children on the lips. Before that, it was a father holding his sick child in a warm shower. I’m sure the list of such “outrageous and harmful” parenting goes on and on and on because the internet is nothing if not a land of unchecked opinion. 

Yep, I’m now going to offer up my own thoughts. Isn’t it ironic??

I admit I don’t entirely understand when these dustups happen, but I gather the perceived issue is with parents sexualizing their children in some way. Or that by being cuddly with our kids we aren’t allowing them to have autonomy over their bodies.

I mean, I get it. We are parenting in a time where the concept of consent is getting a (much needed) reevaluation.

As well-intentioned all of that concern undoubtedly is, it’s a lot of bunk.

Human beings—children and adults alike—need physical contact. That’s a scientific fact. Hugging alone can quell a significant amount of stress.

A huge part of parenting is providing love and comfort to our children as they explore the world and all its rough edges. Part of navigating the rough edges of the world is learning how to comfort someone you love.

But perhaps most importantly, hugs and kisses are the cornerstones to teaching your children about boundaries and consent. Setting hyper-puritanical limits won’t help them grow as well adjusted people.

What do I mean? Ok, check it:

Children will naturally follow their own instincts in who’s arms to go to. Unless it is an emergency or your child is at the doctor for an exam, when your kid recoils, that’s their final answer. Congrats! You’ve learned Lesson Number 1 in listening to your kid’s individual boundaries.

As any parent knows, when your baby is somewhere they don’t want to be, they will fuss and cry and carry on.

If you have a child who is not a hugger, you’ll learn pretty quickly, because they will be vocal about it way before they are verbal. If you have a touchy-feely love bug, you’ll see that too.

I say this with the confidence that comes from experience. My oldest child has a variety of sensory differences, and so he can be very sensitive about being touched. As a baby, he liked hanging out in the swing, bouncer, or on his Boppy pillow. These were better than cuddling with me or my husband.

Not surprisingly, he was also the baby who wouldn’t always let me give him to another grown-up. As my mother-in-law so graciously explained when he refused to be held by her, he needed to size people up and decide for himself.

Imagine my surprise when my second child turned out to be the biggest cuddle-bug.

I struggled when she was an infant because her need for contact was exhausting. She has grown into a hugging champ, who will happily hug anyone, anytime, anywhere. Which is simultaneously sweet, and scary.

Obviously, with each child, my husband and I have lots of opportunities to talk about personal space and boundaries. We work through scripts my son can use to ask for more space, be it his family or classmates before he gets frustrated and wants to shove someone away.

Mommy doesn’t like having her face touched, but Daddy doesn’t usually mind. My son doesn’t always want a hug, but he’s happy to give me a kiss. When I walk my daughter through the halls leaving the school she is sought out by her classmates for a goodbye hug, which she gladly gives. When her brother runs up to meet us, he’s quick to hug me, and allows her to grab his arm for a few minutes before he declares “that’s enough!”

Bottom line: Hug your kids if yall are huggers. Kiss them: on the lips, the head, the cheek, the neck, whatever feels comfy for you and your kid. Let the lessons come naturally.

I love you, Door!

As it happens, my Girl is an even bigger hugger than I am. She will hug anyone and everyone she’s feeling love for, including our front door.

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