When a son no longer wants hugs and kisses

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  May 5, 2011 06:00 PM

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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.

For good reading on raising a son, in addition to Pollack's book, I recommend Michael Thompson's "Raising Cain," and "Packaging Boyhood" by Lyn Mikel Brown, Sharon Lamb and Mark Tappan.

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12 comments so far...
  1. As a mom of two boys, I've had to deal with this a few times. In our family, it seemed that they halfway wanted a hug/goodnight kiss and halfway didn't. I find that humor helps. For example, if he pulls the blanket over his head or pulls back when I reach out to give him a bedtime hug/kiss, I might make big slurpy noises, as if to indicate the grossest kiss ever. He starts to laugh; I start to laugh. If he wants to "win" on a given day, a peck gets planted on the outside of the blanket, and we laugh together in a moment of connection. If he actually wants to get a kiss or hug without having had to admit that he wants one, his head miraculously happens to pop out and he gets one while still saving face because he resisted. Then it's not a power struggle, and it eventually goes away on its own.

    Posted by Mom_of_two May 6, 11 07:58 AM
  1. Am I the only one troubled by the comment about "my kids have a story book childhood"? Maybe your son is resisting you because you are putting unrealistic expectations on everything in his childhood being perfect, including being the perfectly sweet little boy who always wants to kiss his mom. Kids pick up on that kind of thing more than you'd think.

    Posted by Holly May 6, 11 12:50 PM
  1. Unless a child has a behavior that is off-the-charts odd, leave him the heck alone and quit making a big psychosocial gender identification identity differentiation Freudian deal out of it. So an eight year old boy doesn't want to give Mommy kisses on demand and she's upset. Sounds like the kid is not the one with the problem.

    Posted by di May 6, 11 05:59 PM
  1. I have a 5 year old that will hug and kiss his
    Dad and little brother, but never me. If I initiate,
    He turns away or grimaces/scowls at me.
    He treats me so differently. I am a stay at
    home mom. He started this way about 2 years ago.
    Any thoughts?

    Posted by Rimma May 8, 11 09:35 PM
  1. I'm also troubled by the "storybook childhood" and the "so deeply hurt" comments.
    FL, you sound like you are at the center of your world here. Step back and listen to yourself. If you do, writing this note may be the best thing you could have done for your kid and the answer to your own question.

    Posted by Betsy May 9, 11 07:58 AM
  1. I too am troubled about the "story book" childhood since there really is no such thing. And if you are hurt by this, then you are in for a bad few years as your kids become teenagers. It is simply unfair to make a young child responsible for your happiness and your not being "deeply hurt." Who is this about? Your needs or his? Maybe he just feels smothered. And needs a little independence.

    Posted by Nan May 9, 11 12:43 PM
  1. Yup, this is way too much about mom. I, too, was struck by the "storybook childhood" (ain't no such thing, lady), and "deeply hurt." Get over living through your children. Respect his space; he is not your plaything, nor should he be expected to met your affectional needs--that is creepy. Take Barbara's advice, back off, lighten up, and grow up. And BTW, I was a girl who really loathed being touched, hugged, or kissed by my mother, starting at about age eight.

    Posted by Jackie May 9, 11 01:32 PM
  1. I agree with the others. This is more about YOU than your child. This is normal behavior for a child. AT some point you have to stand back and think about when you were a child. When did you start pushing your parents away from affection? you did push them away. don't fool yourself. If your child wants to show affection, let him on his own terms. Nothing short of creepy when affection is forced upon them.

    Posted by JD May 10, 11 09:08 AM

  1. See I think she said Storybook Childhood to say his childhood has been happy, no violence, abuse, alcoholism, issues such as that not that it actually was a storybook... as for not being Hurt how can you control that it is a feeling... you can understand someone doesn't want to hug you and still be hurt by it... just seems a bit jaded to jump on her phrasing..

    Posted by Cara May 11, 11 09:12 PM
  1. ying & yang....my wife & I have had this happen to both of us....he is now 9 going on ten...now it is her turn....not a big deal....give him/her their space....they all hug when they get older....just take a step back & wait....patience is hard....all good....

    Posted by dan January 1, 12 10:05 PM
  1. Wow, I just stumbled across this. I guess the point is true, that mothers are the worst judges of other mothers, instead of supporting them.

    Not a shocker that the woman who claims to show no affection as a child is the one is abrasive and judging.

    It does hurt. When you put all your love and your best into your child and they suddenly reject you. You can tell your spouse if rejection hurts, but you can't tell your child, hence the reason she came here for advice.

    As for her saying a storybook childhood, talk about misinterpreting a statement and taking it too far. You people are the ones who need to get over yourselves. Or does the statement make you question your own parenting and you are snapping back at a stranger?

    I would really have to question how much care you put into your family if you didn't feel hurt about getting rejected about your child. Telling people to grow up was completely unwarranted.

    Posted by watergirl November 15, 13 11:40 PM
  1. My 9 year old son is rejecting my kisses & hugs as well and when I ask him the reason he tells me that I smell!

    It really DOES hurt, I feel broken and lonely, I'm even so embarrassed to ask advice from any one.

    After reading your comments, I realized that other people have got similar problem to mine. I feel much better now, I've decided to respect his space and decision.

    Thank you!

    Posted by Mrs B November 17, 13 05:53 PM
 
12 comments so far...
  1. As a mom of two boys, I've had to deal with this a few times. In our family, it seemed that they halfway wanted a hug/goodnight kiss and halfway didn't. I find that humor helps. For example, if he pulls the blanket over his head or pulls back when I reach out to give him a bedtime hug/kiss, I might make big slurpy noises, as if to indicate the grossest kiss ever. He starts to laugh; I start to laugh. If he wants to "win" on a given day, a peck gets planted on the outside of the blanket, and we laugh together in a moment of connection. If he actually wants to get a kiss or hug without having had to admit that he wants one, his head miraculously happens to pop out and he gets one while still saving face because he resisted. Then it's not a power struggle, and it eventually goes away on its own.

    Posted by Mom_of_two May 6, 11 07:58 AM
  1. Am I the only one troubled by the comment about "my kids have a story book childhood"? Maybe your son is resisting you because you are putting unrealistic expectations on everything in his childhood being perfect, including being the perfectly sweet little boy who always wants to kiss his mom. Kids pick up on that kind of thing more than you'd think.

    Posted by Holly May 6, 11 12:50 PM
  1. Unless a child has a behavior that is off-the-charts odd, leave him the heck alone and quit making a big psychosocial gender identification identity differentiation Freudian deal out of it. So an eight year old boy doesn't want to give Mommy kisses on demand and she's upset. Sounds like the kid is not the one with the problem.

    Posted by di May 6, 11 05:59 PM
  1. I have a 5 year old that will hug and kiss his
    Dad and little brother, but never me. If I initiate,
    He turns away or grimaces/scowls at me.
    He treats me so differently. I am a stay at
    home mom. He started this way about 2 years ago.
    Any thoughts?

    Posted by Rimma May 8, 11 09:35 PM
  1. I'm also troubled by the "storybook childhood" and the "so deeply hurt" comments.
    FL, you sound like you are at the center of your world here. Step back and listen to yourself. If you do, writing this note may be the best thing you could have done for your kid and the answer to your own question.

    Posted by Betsy May 9, 11 07:58 AM
  1. I too am troubled about the "story book" childhood since there really is no such thing. And if you are hurt by this, then you are in for a bad few years as your kids become teenagers. It is simply unfair to make a young child responsible for your happiness and your not being "deeply hurt." Who is this about? Your needs or his? Maybe he just feels smothered. And needs a little independence.

    Posted by Nan May 9, 11 12:43 PM
  1. Yup, this is way too much about mom. I, too, was struck by the "storybook childhood" (ain't no such thing, lady), and "deeply hurt." Get over living through your children. Respect his space; he is not your plaything, nor should he be expected to met your affectional needs--that is creepy. Take Barbara's advice, back off, lighten up, and grow up. And BTW, I was a girl who really loathed being touched, hugged, or kissed by my mother, starting at about age eight.

    Posted by Jackie May 9, 11 01:32 PM
  1. I agree with the others. This is more about YOU than your child. This is normal behavior for a child. AT some point you have to stand back and think about when you were a child. When did you start pushing your parents away from affection? you did push them away. don't fool yourself. If your child wants to show affection, let him on his own terms. Nothing short of creepy when affection is forced upon them.

    Posted by JD May 10, 11 09:08 AM

  1. See I think she said Storybook Childhood to say his childhood has been happy, no violence, abuse, alcoholism, issues such as that not that it actually was a storybook... as for not being Hurt how can you control that it is a feeling... you can understand someone doesn't want to hug you and still be hurt by it... just seems a bit jaded to jump on her phrasing..

    Posted by Cara May 11, 11 09:12 PM
  1. ying & yang....my wife & I have had this happen to both of us....he is now 9 going on ten...now it is her turn....not a big deal....give him/her their space....they all hug when they get older....just take a step back & wait....patience is hard....all good....

    Posted by dan January 1, 12 10:05 PM
  1. Wow, I just stumbled across this. I guess the point is true, that mothers are the worst judges of other mothers, instead of supporting them.

    Not a shocker that the woman who claims to show no affection as a child is the one is abrasive and judging.

    It does hurt. When you put all your love and your best into your child and they suddenly reject you. You can tell your spouse if rejection hurts, but you can't tell your child, hence the reason she came here for advice.

    As for her saying a storybook childhood, talk about misinterpreting a statement and taking it too far. You people are the ones who need to get over yourselves. Or does the statement make you question your own parenting and you are snapping back at a stranger?

    I would really have to question how much care you put into your family if you didn't feel hurt about getting rejected about your child. Telling people to grow up was completely unwarranted.

    Posted by watergirl November 15, 13 11:40 PM
  1. My 9 year old son is rejecting my kisses & hugs as well and when I ask him the reason he tells me that I smell!

    It really DOES hurt, I feel broken and lonely, I'm even so embarrassed to ask advice from any one.

    After reading your comments, I realized that other people have got similar problem to mine. I feel much better now, I've decided to respect his space and decision.

    Thank you!

    Posted by Mrs B November 17, 13 05:53 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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