The Magic Greeting Every Kid Should Learn Before Visiting Family
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: As a bonus for joining my weekly newsletter, get a free printable coloring page to teach your child 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†.
Related: How to Teach Your Girl to Demand Respect
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 get 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.
Get Your Free Printable
- Get the color-in sign. You’ll get the printable, plus join my weekly newsletter! Just click here to get it 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.
Before you go, get my FREE cheat sheet: 75 Positive Phrases Every Child Needs to Hear
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!
Note: All information on this site is for educational purposes only. Happy You, Happy Family does not provide medical advice. If you suspect medical problems or need professional advice, please consult a physician.
Oh I love Easy to Love, Difficult to discipline. I should probably re-read it. We don’t force our kids to hug relatives for the same reason.
As a child who was very shy, I love this! I am always trying to reassure my husband that the kids don’t have to hug Mamaw and Papaw if they don’t feel like it. Trying this this season!
I’m the same exact way! My daughter isn’t shy, but I always was, so she doesn’t have to hug anyone she doesn’t want to. I LOVE this solution!
Funnily enough I invented this, too! ? I’ve been using this phrase with other people’s kids for years, and it works every time – kids who feel they don’t know me well are always happy to high five me. It’s especially good for early teens who we may have been used to hugging as younger children – their newfound ultra-self-conscious body awareness means they may no longer wish to hug, or that hugging just isn’t cool any more.
So I can say from years of experience that this phrase truly is a winner.
What a great way to teach children thatthey are in control! I wish my mother knew this when my brother and I were little kids. We HAD to hug all the grandparents and aunts, uncles great aunts & great uncles. IF we hesitated we got in trouble.
We did not see these people all the time, maybe once a year, sometmes not for years!
I remember when my oldest daughtr was born and when she started walking and was able to make her prefference known my mom wuld get irritated with her for not wanting to h ug and or kiss certain family members!! I put my foot down. I was touched by these people (not all men either) and I didn’t want them touching my children!
If my kids didn’t like someone I didn’t force it. IT went for both kids and adults. Kids can be just as or more inappropriate then adults. I learned that the hard way also.
My oldest daughter posted this, thank God!! And my youngest read it.
It is such an happy and positive artical but it brought back so many bad memories from my childhood I just has to share how important it is to teach our children these things!!
I think I will see if one of our local book stores has the book!! So I can give it to them as a Christmas gift.
THank you so much sharing this with the world! IT is important to empower our chicldren and for them to know that they do have some power over what goes on!
Maybe it’s just me or reading this in mobile but holycow! ads much? This page was layed out so crappy and hard to read..i had hard time following it with all the text breakup for ads. Going to avoid this blog in the future this is terrible.
ok sorry, but do you have to be rude much? I totally understand I hate ads too, but no need to be rude about it! Like what we all learned in kindergarten, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all!
When I taught we practiced Conscious Discipline, yes it’s very good. We had a ton of different greetings 3,4 and 5 years olds get really into it. My kids are super friendly and hug/high five/fist bump EVERY family member even the dogs lol…. however they have cousins who are shier and the hubbs and I remind them of that, so I’ll tell my kids to give their cousins a “Friendly Hello” that’s usually with a wave and a high-five…
Add Hello for avoidance of all physical contact and this is what we do. Hello adds the ultimate consent and that is whether the child wants to make physical contact at all. A polite Hello, nice to see/meet you, should be sufficient for just about any occasion.
Great point, Billy. This is a catchy phrase that will work well for some families, but a simple “hello” is of course always an option!
I like your writing, but I’m not sure if anyone has ever talked to you about the fact that it is really difficult to get into the flow of reading something when all of the paragraphs only consist of one sentence. It messes with continuity and makes it hard to stick with the story. I’m honestly not trying to be rude, but it’s a struggle to get through sometimes and your points are really good.
Susan, I appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment. That just happens to be my writing style after being a professional writer and editor for nearly 20 years. The good news is that the Internet is bursting at the seams with all different styles of writing, so I’m sure you’ll happen upon someone whose style is more to your liking!
That’s an interesting comment to me, since I trained in creative writing at University and, for three years, my tutors’ most consistent criticism of my style was that it was draining to read because I had way too many words in each sentences, and that I relied too heavily on commas. As you can see I’ve yet to address this problem ;)
I offer ‘Pinky Hugs.’ If a child is reticent to make contact, I just say, “Pinky Hug?” and offer them my crooked pinky. They always ‘hug’ back with their pinky! And it’s playful and won’t make them feel guilty or uncomfortable. It usually makes them laugh, and probably feel relieved.
Beth, I love this! Great idea.
Hugs, handshake or high five is a great phrase to work with. When my daughter was small and we visited extended family that she was unfamiliar with, her father insisted she should give hugs. I told him she’s not comfortable with hugs to those she is unfamiliar with and she should never be forced to give hugs. So, I taught her to throw a hug! It was easy, the family members loved it and my daughter felt much better with this technique. She is 9 years old now, but will still throw hugs to those she’s not familiar with, it’s a win win for everyone and no one is left feeling uncomfortable, especially my daughter!
Thank you for sharing. I read another article about this yesterday. Printed the coloring page for my littles and husband and I to talk about and do together. My husband tries to force our little ones to hug and kiss his parents, but I’m not okay with it and I can see that they aren’t either. Going to share this article with him as well. Great post.
My 1 year old does “noses” basically she rubs noses with people , she’s just started blowing kisses too.
As a fairly new Nanna I totally agree with this article. I never forced my children to kiss people, whether family or friends. I also taught them about what it felt like to feel uncomfortable and what to do. eg. Tell someone!!! When they were older we taught our kids that at sleep overs (which were few) or outings away from us, if they felt uncomfortable for whatever reason all they had to do was call and we would come and pick them up. We only had to do it once from memory. We have got to realise that our children have a voice to be heard and need safe people.
As a grandma, I would love this as an option. I hesitate to go up to my grandchildren (that I see 1-2 times a year. I realize they don’t know me and I don’t want to scare them, But I don’t want to ignore them or act unfriendly.
Yes, as a Grandma, I also respect my grandchildren’s boundaries and never ‘force’ a hug. That creates safety and helps us connect even more. I love your (and other’s) suggestions for alternatives. Thanks!
Now we need a grandmother protection sign. DONT jump all over the woman, for goodness sake. Don’t yell in her ear. Don’t pull at her clothes or squeeze her arthritic hand. Thank goodness I have perfect g’children would never do any of those things, and they don’t need a cheat sheet to remind them, either.
Some great ideas!
When I used to babysit, quite a few of the kids wanted hugs and kisses when I tucked them into bed, something I didn’t feel comfortable with. So instead we started doing ‘butterfly kisses’ on the back of each other’s hand (where you flutter your eyelashes across the skin) and they loved it, it was still special and personal without being too intimate. Plus it tickled and was funny and it was cute to imagine a little butterfly, lol, so it always put them in a happy mood before bed
But isn’t there a difference between accepting genuine affection from a loving family member and thinking everyone is a predator. My daughter won’t let me touch her and lord knows I have no intentions other showing my love.
What hurts more is that she hugs and is very touchy with her friends.
So I’m supposed to follow her love language and do what she wants and needs but what about my love language? I’m just left in the dirt to glean what I can.
I do not kiss family members, I don’t really know why but I don’t want it.
It might be because most of my family are women, and there are times when I’m the only guy.
My mother says it might be because one of my grandmothers used to lick her finger and then touch my food and do other grose stuff as a joke, and that i got some kind of phobia from that.
I have no memory of that but I want to get over this.
Does anybody have tips or does anybody know someone who got over this?
I feel like I’m missing something. Does the kid just say all three and let the adult pick? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the kid not wanting to hug when they give that as an option to the person? Are the kids just supposed to say whatever of the three they want to do?
Hi Andrea! The child is the one who gets to pick what they’re comfortable with :) What works best is to practice ahead of time before that moment, then in the moment you can give your child a gentle, quiet reminder that they’re in the driver’s seat. If you really want to go above and beyond, you can get relatives on board ahead of time by teaching them the phrase and encouraging them to ask the child what they prefer. Hope that helps!
Love, love, love this mantra, Kelly! Hug, handshake or high-five?! What if they say neither?!
I just met three young cousins forvthe first time. The girls are between 7 and 11. Although my family is very demonstrative, I was wondering how I should handle them without coming off as rude and cold or making them feel uncomfortable.. I am so glad I read your article. Great advice!!