How often, especially during the holidays, are children confronted with moments like this one: a relative comes to visit and the child’s parents say something like, “Now, give your uncle a hug and kiss.”
And when the child refuses to provide physical affection, or hesitates at the request, they sometimes hear things like, “You’re hurting your uncle’s feelings. It’s not polite. Now, go give him a hug and kiss.”
Some of us even remember our relatives asking us (some may say pleading or begging) for affection, “Aren’t you going to give me a hug and kiss? Please?!”
I think this insisting and cajoling of a child into showing physical affection towards an adult is incredibly dangerous. Whether it’s a relationship between a child and his/her relatives or one between a kid and an adult who is an acquaintance, family friend, mentor, this type of behavior, in which children are expected to show physical affection as a sign of respect, is something I think we all need to be careful about.
For me, it’s about the issue of when a child gives us the sense that they don’t want to be physically affectionate with someone, and our tendency to encourage the child, at that particular moment, to abandon their intuition and instinct. It’s a small step towards the erosion of that child’s sense of self-trust.
At that moment, we are telling them, “Forget about how you feel. Do something that makes you feel uncertain and uncomfortable, so that someone else (an adult) can feel acknowledged and respected.”
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