In my family, we don’t force our kids to hug or kiss family members.
Here’s why: Forcing physical affection teaches our kids that they aren’t in charge of who touches their bodies. If one of our kids ends up in the horrible situation of having an adult touch them in an inappropriate way, we want our kids to feel confident in saying no and getting the heck outta dodge to a safe place.
My husband and I have people in our lives who were abused as children, so we are dead serious when it comes to teaching the concept of consent and keeping our children safe from that fate. It’s also important to remember that the vast majority of sexual abuse of children occurs with adults the child already knows, and you can’t tell an abuser just by looking at them.
Think we’re overreacting? Here are three important things you should know:
- 1 in 5 children will be sexually abused before the age of 18. At least.
- Most victims know and trust their abusers because their abusers are family members or family acquaintances.
- Abusers tend to be respected members of the community. In other words, you won’t know just by looking at them that they’re an abuser.
Bonus: Download a free printable coloring page to teach your kids this magic phrase.
But That’s Not the Point
Maybe you think our approach is rude, or maybe you see where we’re coming from and you even handle this issue the same way.
Regardless of where you stand with this situation, here’s something we can agree on: Sometimes, a kid just doesn’t feel like hugging grandma or Uncle Bob or that well-meaning family friend who insists on pinching kids’ cheeks…HARD.
Maybe the child needed some extra time to warm up to family after not seeing them for a while. Maybe the child has a case of the hangries and isn’t in the mood for physical affection. Maybe she doesn’t feel like having sore cheeks the rest of the day.
Whatever the reason, it happens. Especially around the holidays.
You make the trip to visit grandma for the first time in months – maybe years – and grandma holds out her arms for a hug while your child just…stands there.
Related: Why You Might Think I Have Rude Kids
How to Prepare Your Child for That Moment
Before you end up in that situation, teach your child this phrase:
Hug, handshake, or high-five?
Practice it at home. Set a doll up on the couch and pretend she’s grandma. Then walk up to grandma with your child, turn to your little one, and say, “Hug, handshake, or high-five?”
In the car before you get out to walk up to a house full of extended family members, talk through the scenario.
Then when you’re inside the house and your child hesitates in the moment of greeting, say it out loud to remind your child and get the family member up to speed: “Hug, handshake, or high-five?”
Why This Works When Kids Shy Away From Hugging
This greeting puts the child in the driver’s seat of deciding the level of touch she feels comfortable with. Most adults will happily return a high-five or handshake. Those are both positive alternatives to a more intimate hug, which the child may not be ready for.
And whatever you call it when a child is uncomfortable in these social situations – shy, introverted, or slow-to-warm – this solution works.
Plus? “Hug, handshake, or high-five” is catchy and easy to remember.
I’ve been told by teachers that the “hug, handshake, or high-five” greeting comes from a classroom management strategy called Conscious Discipline created by Dr. Becky Bailey. If you like the idea of this greeting, you will probably enjoy Dr. Bailey’s book for parents called Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline: The 7 Basic Skills for Turning Conflict into Cooperation.
Or…Make Up Your Own Phrase
If your child prefers fist bumps, waving, or blowing kisses, those are all great alternatives too. Bonus points to whomever leaves the most clever catch phrases in the comments of this post!
Print This Sign to Teach Your Kids
This post includes a free printable “hug, handshake, or high-five” sign for you and your child. (See below for how to download it.)
Your kids can color in the words on this sign, and then you can hang it in your house as a reminder.
For the science of why coloring words on a sign helps your child internalize a lesson, check out 9 Powerful Phrases That Will Inspire Your Kid to Keep Trying – Even When It’s Hard. But remember to keep it light and fun. If you introduce fear and stress into the situation for your child, learning stops.
To keep it fun, try printing two copies, then sit by your child and color them together.
Download Your Free Printable
- Download the color-in sign. You’ll get the printable, plus join my weekly newsletter! Just click here to download and subscribe.
- Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock would be ideal.
- Set your kids up to color the sign. Regular old crayons work fine, or you can pair the activity with a fun new art supply like watercolor pencils or 80’s Glam Sharpies.
Download my FREE cheat sheet as a bonus for joining my newsletter: 16 Miracle Phrases to Help You Reconnect With Your Child
To get more positive, practical tips for honoring your child’s body autonomy, check out How to Teach Your Girl to Demand Respect.
How do you handle this situation? Share in a comment below!
I’m a mom of four, a recovering perfectionist, and the author of Happy You, Happy Family. Parenting is hard enough without all the guilt we heap on top of ourselves. So let’s stop trying to be perfect parents and just be real ones. Sound good? Join my mailing list and as a bonus, you’ll get 25+ incredibly helpful cheat sheets that will ease your parenting struggles.