My son is almost eight years old. In the past few months, he has refused to hug or kiss me as part of our usual goodnight or good day routine in the morning or at night. He will still hug me if it is on his term at spontaneous moments - example - If I gave him a present he really wanted or told him he could do something he really wanted. He'll say "Thanks Mom" and give me a great big hug.
One could just chalk it up to him just not liking affection, but he has no qualms about providing hugs and kisses to his father before bed. It seems to be directed at me. I'll try to kiss him and he'll look down to avoid it. If I try to hug him as I tuck him into bed, he'll roll away from me and bury his head in the mattress. I even tried brushing my teeth before putting him to bed in fear that I had bad breath. I am a very dedicated mother and my kids have a story book childhood. I am so deeply hurt by his actions. When I ask him about it, I just get a shrug.
Thanks for your help,
From: Feeling lost, Fishers, IN
Dear Feeling Lost,
Been there, down that and, boy, you're right, it isn't fun. Try not to take it personally. I'd bet bit that this is developmentally driven and has nothing to do with you as you, but you as mother. He's at a stage where he is trying to distance himself from what he perceives as dependency, neediness and femininity. In his eyes, hugs and kisses from mom are big-time symbols of being a little boy. I said this is developmentally driven but it gets exacerbated by our popular culture and reinforced by peers who believe that being a boy is a black and white affair: hugging, kissing, tenderness and affection are not masculine, they are girly. You can't be a Real Boy (as Bill Pollock writes in his book of a similar name, "Real Boys") if you have anything to do with those behaviors.
Having said that, though, I think you're smart to make sure there isn't something (bad breath does come to mind, so does body odor or, on the flip side, too much perfume) that is offensive to him. Just to test it out, you could make sure you are odor-free. There is also the possibility that he has an aversion to physical contact. But, really, I don't think that's it, I think this is a stage your son needs to go through. Give him room to do it and he'll come out on the other side. .
Meanwhile, handle this respectfully as you can -- "Hey, no hugs? That's cool, how about a fist bump?" Don't force it. You've expressed your hurt, now move on. Giving it too much attention only gives the behavior more power. But that doesn't mean you can't set some limits around it. That works best if you can use humor. "Listen, buster, you gotta give your mother a hug good night. House rules."
This is also a good time for dad to be hyper aware of himself as a role model. I hate to put it that way, I don't mean dad has to scrutinize his every move. But his actions -- helping in the kitchen, showing affection, reading books -- get noted by sons and can go a long way to fighting (or encouraging) stereotypes.
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