(Continued from Part 1)

For years now, I have gotten push back on my position that children should not be forced to hug relatives. The response once came to me:

Shouldn’t children be encouraged to move beyond their “comfort zone?” I think if a parent says go ahead and hug Aunt Carol, that’s teaching a child to be forthcoming and affectionate, and to appreciate those close to them. It’s part of good manners, in a way. If I am seeing this incorrectly, I’d love to be educated. I perceive parents who allow their children to hide behind their legs as “coddling” them, not raising them.

I don’t have answers for all of this as much as I have questions. For example, “encouraged” or “pushed”? When “teaching a child to be forthcoming and affectionate,” what if that person is their abuser? Of child sexual abuse cases reported, 93% are committed by perpetrators known by the child. 34% of perpetrators are family members.

The world is a much scarier place when the adults you trust aren’t attuned to your safety needs. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about potty training or sports or school work. Pushing is counterproductive. Stephen Camarata, author of “The Intuitive Parent: Why the Best Thing for Your Child Is You” on the topic of academic pressure writes,

“Given the nationwide push to teach children more and more complex concepts at earlier and earlier ages, you’d think that there surely must be an extensive scientific literature to support these efforts. Not only does no such data exist, but an emerging body of research indicates that attempts to accelerate intellectual development are in fact counterproductive.”

Gentle guidance works wonders. The question goes back to the adult, “How does it feel in your body to be pushed beyond your comfort zone when it comes to your own personal space?”

Mister Rogers once said, “One of the first things a child learns in a healthy family is trust.” What is the harm in letting the child go to Aunt Carol on their own timeline, when they choose to do so? To peel them off your leg, isn’t that telling them they have to do this thing they really don’t want to? Fast forward to 12 years old… 22 years old… what message have we given children? That they must make the other person happy? That they don’t have agency over their bodies? What harm will it do to have Aunt Carol say, “that’s ok.” No guilt trip. No anger. Just love. Children need guidance from their parents with things as simple as saying “no” especially when words are not yet possible.

Why do adults have to judge a child for their insecurity and force them through that discomfort? Some children are more sensitive than others – all children are not alike. Is “coddling” them a bad thing when it comes to making sure a child knows they can choose who they want to show affection to or not? Is it a bad thing to teach children that they don’t have to give a hug or a kiss to a gramma they haven’t seen in a while and might be a little scared? I don’t think so. Where do children learn that they can choose to say “no” if not in the safety of their own home?

My child would probably have more fear if I kept pushing her into doing things she didn’t want to do. When it comes to my child’s autonomy, I’m not willing to play with that. Children deserve to be protected, supported, and their feelings validated.

For Part 3, click here.

About the Author

The MamaSutra

Dr. Lanae St.John is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sexology and certified sex coach with a background in sexology and a passion for helping people improve their sexual health and relationships. She is the author of "Read Me: A Parental Primer for "The Talk"" and the upcoming "You Are the One: How stopping the search and looking inside will lead you to your romantic destiny," and is committed to staying up-to-date on the latest research and trends in the field. Dr. St.John aims to share her knowledge and expertise in a relatable and approachable way through her blog on themamasutra.com.

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