Affection Or Abuse?

I read this article this morning and was prompted to throw in my view about it because of the dismissive tone of the headline which made the back of my neck fizz as I read it!

Basically, the experts suggest that we shouldn’t force children to kiss relatives when they are reluctant to do so and should offer a wave or a high five instead because it “protects them from abuse”. The article’s author says this is nonsense.

The way I see it is that children should be encouraged gently to show some sign of affection, with the emphasis on gently. Bu if they say no, or back away then they absolutely should NOT be forced to do it. There are all sorts of trust issues involved, and maybe the best way simply is to offer a wave or a high five until the child feels comfortable getting closer. I can see that some people will argue that Granny gets upset if the grandchildren don’t kiss her, and that “we all kiss each other in this family”, which is fine if it works for all their children, but it won’t be the case for all of them.

I can also see why some people would disagree about the “protects from abuse” aspect of this story.

If, as a parent, you force your toddler to kiss Auntie X or Grandpa Y against their will, what you are doing is not “encouraging affection” but actually you are giving them the message that they are not in control of their bodies, and if an adult says “do this” then they have no choice but to comply. To me, that is abuse. You are not saying that Granny or Auntie or Grandpa are abusing the child at that point, but you are setting up the child’s future chances of staying in control of their choices when it comes to their own bodies later on and being frightened to speak up if they think you will condone abusive behaviour towards them.


It horrifies me that people think it’s ok to force children in this way, especially in this day and age and after the cases of sexual exploitation we read about daily. It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to grasp the notion that if child grows up knowing they have the power to say NO to adults then they grow up that bit safer in a world where exploitation and abuse are commonplace. And where better to start than in the comfort of your own family? If a child is confident that their wish not to give affection is honoured in their own family then they will be stronger to withstand pressures later on in life from places outside it.

I am incensed that the author of this article cannot see this simple fact, and actually argues that the experts are loony-lefty do-gooders with nothing better to do than meddle in family affairs. I can see the point that children should be encouraged to give affection, but there is a world away from encouragement and force. There are all sorts of trust issues involved here and even as a non-expert I can see the sense in the expert’s advice on this matter.

What do you think? Are you of the thought that toddlers and young children should be entitled to say no, or do you perhaps think that at that age they don’t know what they are saying no to and should be forced to comply with family conventions? Are we over-reacting and will child abuse go on whether they are forced to kiss Granny goodbye or not?

Maybe I’m a little sensitive, but I firmly believe that children should always, ALWAYS have a choice about showing affection and loving behaviour. Or not. It’s their choice.

I’d love to hear your view.


12 thoughts on “Affection Or Abuse?”

  1. I can tell son is like me..he does not like to show ‘affection’ to family or friends. He says, “Mom, it is my space.” I will not force him to do so. Now, there are times when he will hug a family member, then there are times when he will shake their hands. It is just a personal thing for us. We both have gotten better, and I do believe I am the one who ought to take the intitative more often then not, so he can see there is no harm. Unfort..he is also like me, he can pick out the “bad” / uncomfortable right away. However, he is also like his father and can talk to a tree. So..honestly, I do believe, it is more me that has to take the first step. I have always been a closed off person. Great post, great question.


    1. Thank you Linda. I appreciate you contributing your point of view to this debate, and I’m glad you shared your personal experience.

      I think you and your son should be celebrated for being the way that you are and being “closed off” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You are right to allow your son the right to claim his own personal space too – it shows he is aware of boundaries and isn’t intimidated into compromising himself at the expense of others.


  2. I’ve read this same article and found it… offensive…. in their approach to the issue. I could say more, but that would be a blog post in itself. But, I have to side with you. Forcing a child to do something that they don’t feel comfortable doing such as showing affection to family members breaks down trust and can cause all kinds of problems later in life as you’ve suggested. I’ve never made my sons kiss their relatives though it was encouraged. It was my youngest, my problem child, who balked the most at the idea. On his own, he has started showing affection with kisses to the cheek or random hugs throughout the day. Cutest thing is, he will come up to us and say ‘I want a hug’ before doing it. That wasn’t started until he was nearly five and we keep up the encouragement. With my oldest, it came very naturally and easily.

    I say they should be given the choice as to how they want to show affection so they can learn those subtle social cues in interpersonal relationships in adulthood. We really shouldn’t force children to do anything except to see the world around them until they are old enough to explore on their own.


    1. Thank you for your answer to my post and joining in the debate. I think what you highlight here is that every individual has a different view on what is socially acceptable to them, and just the same as with adults, not all children are happy to be tactile and show affection by hugging and kissing. And yes, it is a wonderful thing when a normally reluctant child offers a genuine hug now and again!


  3. I agree. We have friends and family and all of them relate in different ways. It isn’t a matter of a child’s freedom of choice, more of respect for each persons individuality. My children and I kiss goodnight. My niece kisses my wife and her cousins but not me. Sometimes my youngest refuses to kiss Nana goodbye or me goodnight. It doesn’t bother us because we don’t look to it as an affirmation of love. Respecting their bodies, their space and their willingness to kiss certain people instill in them a power to decide who can come near, touch or embrace them IMO


    1. They were discussing this very issue on The Wright Stuff this morning, and one of the panelists said that children SHOULD be made to kiss Granny/Grandpa because it was their job to make the older person happy…. *facepalm* NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!


  4. As a youngster I was encouraged by Mum to give everyone adult in the room a good-night kiss on the cheek when it was time for me to go to bed. I do not believe I resented this. Even as a child I thought this was the socially acceptable thing to do. When we stayed with my father’s family I realised they had this custom of kissing kids on the mouth. I definitely did not like this and kind of turned my head to the side so I would not be kissed on the mouth. The aunties who wanted to kiss me on the mouth soon caught on to it that I did not like it and for sure would never have used any kind of force for me to comply.
    I cannot comprehend how anyone in a situation like this would even consider force.


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