1. Dear Barbara,
I have a 4-year-old son with whom I have been very affectionate with since birth. He used to give me a kiss in the morning but decided in the past year or so that he doesn't like to give kisses so we have a morning hug. He has told me and his father that we can kiss him whenever we want but he doesn't like hugging or kissing anyone else. I do kiss him a lot on his cheek or forehead, like when I put him in his car seat or he's sitting on my lap watching TV. And sometimes when he wants a treat, I ask him for a kiss first and he gives it un-begrudgingly.
Recently, his teachers told me that they had all the kids hug each other and my son refused. I don't think they made an issue out of it with him. My parents try to force him to hug or kiss them and get very upset when he won't. We're trying to teach our son that he's in control of his body and do not force him to hug or kiss people he doesn't want to, but we do make him acknowledge people with words or a high five.
I'm concerned that my constant affection has turned my son off from being affectionate. Should I try to refrain from hugging and kissing him so much? He's affectionate with me and his dad (and still likes being rocked at night) and is very friendly and outgoing. He just doesn't like other people kissing and hugging him. What should I tell my parents? My mother tries to make him feel guilty and my dad just grabs him and kisses him.
Thanks for your help.
From: Kissing Mom, Boston
The step-dad of our 2-year-old granddaughter will, at inappropriate times, ask her to give him hugs and kisses. At these times she will invariably say no, or no daddy. At that point he uses physical force to grab her to try and force the hugs and kisses. By this time she is struggling with all her might to try to get away from him. If the physical force does not work he then adds verbal threats of punishment until she gives in. My attitude is that this is very wrong.
What do you think?
From: Bob, Santee, CA
Dear Kissing Mom,
I don't think your affection has turned him off -- especially since he still likes to rock with you at night, sit on your lap, etc. This sounds like one of two possibilities.
The first -- and this is where my money is -- is that he's simply exerting some control and showing some autonomy. Kids this age don't have a lot of ways in which they can "be in charge." Their body is one. So refusing hugs and kisses -- or doling them out according to his agenda, like after a treat -- could be his way of saying, "Hey, pay attention, I'm in charge of my body."
My advice is to respect his wishes, and to ask as you have been doing. Keep it within reason, too. He realizes that he has a precious commodity and not allowing the hugs and kisses is getting him attention, especially, it seems, from the grandparents. I would suggest they do the same as you, which is to ask, "Could I have a hug?" You could also negotiate this with him by explaining that, since grandpa and grandma don't see him every day like you do, a hug is really special for them and maybe he could give them hug when they first arrive, as a way to say, "I'm glad to see you!" Whatever they do, bribing for hugs or kisses ("I have a present, but you can only have it if you give me a hug and a kiss") is never a good idea.
When grandpa grabs him for a kiss, how does your son react? Some kids like the rough and tumble of that, so maybe it works. But if he's protesting, I would tell dad to cut it out. I'm also glad to know that the teachers were respectful, in fact, I'm kinda surprised they "had" kids hug each other.
Also consider that some kids simply don't like physical contact. I've known kids who have a low threshold for physical contact; a hug, for instance, may have far more air space between the two bodies than the typical hug. It's a sensory issue, and I wouldn't make a big deal out of this, since he does seem to be able to tolerate some degree of physical contact. He will either outgrow this, or learn to manage it in a socially acceptable way. On the other hand: Does he have issues with certain fabrics or items of clothing that "itch" or bother him? Does he complain about certain collars or cuffs? Does he have problems with noise? Sensory integration can be a serious problem, but that doesn't sound like you are describing.
I agree with you that this step-dad is out of line. While It's likely that your granddaughter is trying to exert some control, as I described above to Kissing Mom, an adult should never force affection on a child. That he picks her up and hugs and kisses her while she is protesting is not funny, cute, or appropriate. The behavior needs to stop.
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