Why You Shouldn't Force Kids to Hug Others

Published September 26, 2022
Preschooler daughter gives a sad hug to her father

You've planned a family game night and your doorbell rings to signal the arrival of your guests. Loved ones stand in the doorway and open their arms to receive a big hug from you and the kiddos to greet them. Or, a dinner party comes to an end and friends gather at the door expectantly, waiting for a hug goodbye. But what would you do if your child looked at their open arms and said, "No, thank you?"

Some people might accept their child's refusal, while others may insist that their kiddo follow through with a hug in order to be polite. Forcing a child to give or receive an unwanted hug can seem simple and innocent. However, forcing unwanted hugs can set an example that your kid's feelings don't matter. Look to this guide to learn more about what forced hugging teaches children.

You Shouldn't Force Your Kids to Give Hugs

Hugs can seem extremely simple. You stick your arms out, wrap them around the other person, stay still for a few seconds, and then boom, you're done! It's a relatively easy chain of events. However, if you don't want to give or receive a hug from the other person, the act can be uncomfortable or stressful.

Have you ever had to do something you didn't really want to? It likely put a lump in your throat and a pit in your stomach. Think about how these forced choices made you feel. Giving or receiving an unwanted hug is similar, but might be amplified ten times because it's an action that directly involves your body.

The action is intimate and personal, and it doesn't always feel right to everyone. Especially for kids who want to maintain personal space between themselves and others. And, ultimately, that's a preference that deserves respect.

Don't Force Kids to Hug Someone Because...

When you make a kiddo hug someone, you set examples and teach them life lessons that may not actually be in their best interest, even if you have only the best intentions. Their aversion and discomfort coupled with your insistence to give someone a hug does not equate to a healthy interaction for anyone.

Forcing Hugs Takes Away a Child's Bodily Autonomy

When you make someone give or receive a hug, you are telling them what to do with their body. At the moment, they aren't allowed to make their own decisions about who is touching them, or how.

It takes away their right to consent and undermines the practice. And, it teaches kids that they don't have to agree before someone touches them.

Forcing Hugs Teaches Kids They Have to Comply

It can be a good trait to learn how to follow instructions. However, there are several instances when you want a child to decide what's right and wrong on their own, despite what an adult tells them. When a child is forced to hug someone, it teaches them that they should always do what adults tell them to do in order to be respectful, even if it doesn't feel right. However, you should not ask a child to do something that doesn't feel right to them.

Forcing Hugs Sets an Example That a Child's Needs Don't Matter

Kids are people, too. They have their own wants and needs, just like everyone else. However, if a child doesn't want to hug someone and is forced to, it undermines these attributes.

Not only does it show that a child's personal space preferences are less important, it specifically shows that they are less important than the person they are being forced to hug, as well as the person that is forcing them to give the hug. Typically, these people are family members, close friends, or even parents.

If a child learns that their needs are less important than the needs of others, it can have negative consequences. For example, they might not be able to advocate for their needs, or they may develop people-pleasing behaviors in order to keep others happy.

Forcing Hugs Shows Kids That Being "Good" Means Ignoring Their Feelings

Sometimes when a child refuses a hug, they are reprimanded by an adult for not being nice to others. Then, when the child gives the unwanted hug, they are applauded for being good and kind.

This encourages kids to do things that make them feel uncomfortable in order to receive praise and be considered a good child. In the same way that people used to say that "beauty is pain," forced hugging teaches kids that "kindness is uncomfortable."

Forcing Hugs Tells Kids They Aren't Allowed to Have Boundaries

It might not seem like it at the moment, but when your child says they don't want to give someone a hug, they are setting a boundary. They are letting you know that they are uncomfortable with the situation and that they do not want it to continue.

When a child is forced to hug someone, it can set an example that they aren't allowed to have boundaries. And, maybe even more importantly, that when they do try to set a boundary, it will not be respected.

When this is established, your child might not value setting other boundaries in life due to the thought that they won't be respected anyway. How can a kid expect a friend or stranger to respect their boundaries when their own parents or family members don't?

Talk to Your Kids About Why They Don't Like Giving Hugs

Whether your kiddo gives hugs to everyone around the room, or they save their squeezes for a select few, it can be helpful to have a conversation about it. You can learn more about their likes and dislikes, as well as teach them how to respect others' boundaries and set their own.

Schedule a Time to Talk

Set aside some time to have a conversation with your child about boundaries, personal space, and meeting their own needs. You don't have to wait until after your child has experienced a situation with an unwanted hug. In fact, you can plan to have a conversation with them about all of these topics as soon as they start interacting with loved ones. It's never too early to start teaching kids about personal space and respecting others.

Father and mother talking to their son

Find Out How They Feel

There are a seemingly endless amounts of reasons why your child may not want to hug someone. But the only way you are going to learn more about it is to talk to them.

You can ask them directly if they don't like giving hugs in general, or if there are certain people or situations that make them uncomfortable. Listen to what they are telling you, and then do your best to meet their needs going forward.

Some reasons why your child might not like giving hugs are:

  • They just don't like being touched or squeezed
  • They don't like being told what to do with their bodies
  • They don't feel comfortable showing affection
  • They don't like whoever you are asking them to hug for one reason or another
  • They don't like saying goodbye
  • They would rather say goodbye in a different way
  • They are shy around others
  • They previously had a bad experience when they gave or received a hug

Ask How You Can Support Them

After you find out why your child doesn't like giving hugs, validate how they are feeling and thank them for sharing their thoughts with you. Then, ask about what you can do going forward to make them feel supported.

They might ask you to be nearby when loved ones ask for hugs after events. Or, they might ask you to stand up for them if a family member continues to ask for a hug after they have refused. They might also just want to hear you say that it's okay. Make a plan together on how to move forward.

Teach Your Child How to Decline a Hug

If your child has never been allowed to decline an unwanted hug before, it can be difficult for them to understand that it's okay to say "No." You can take this learning opportunity to empower your child to express their needs, as well as be polite when they are refusing a request.

Not only can you tell your child that they are allowed to refuse a hug, kiss, or any other kind of physical touch, but you can also check in with them the next time that someone asks for one.

For example, if an uncle reaches out their arms to simply ask your child, "Do you feel like giving a hug right now? You can say no." Then, see how your child responds. This can remind them that they have a choice, and that they aren't obligated to follow through.

Politely Say "No"

One of the first things you can do to help your child decline a hug is to teach them how to refuse politely. This can be as simple as, "No, thank you."

Then, encourage your child to say goodbye in a way they are comfortable with. They can even tell loved ones, "I don't like hugs, but I do like high-fives," and then give the family member a high-five on the way out.

Stand Firm in Their Decision

A loved one may ask your kiddo, "Why?" or "Can't I have just one?" after they refuse. This can make your child feel pressured to change their answer and give the person a hug anyway, despite the fact that they don't want to.

Let your child know that they don't have to change their mind just because somebody questions their decision. Encourage your child to respond with, "No, thank you. I don't want to," and continue on with the other farewells.

Your child does not need to give anyone an explanation for not wanting to give a hug. However, it can be helpful to let your child know that some people will have questions and that they should be prepared to potentially say no a second time.

Choose a Different Way to Say Hello and Goodbye

Hugging isn't the only way to say goodbye to someone or to let them know you care. Talk to your kiddo about different ways to say goodbye that might give them more personal space and make them more comfortable. Then, they can pick a farewell that is right for them. Some additional ways to say goodbye are:

Happy girl giving high five to father in front of car on sunny day
  • Blow a kiss
  • Fist bump
  • Handshake
  • High-five
  • Wave

Don't Force Kids to Hug

Although a hug may seem unimportant, that isn't necessarily true. Kids are like sponges, and they are constantly taking in new information from the world around them. The lessons they learn and things they perceive when they are forced to hug someone can influence other aspects of their life.

It's okay if you've encouraged your child to give out hugs in the past when they declined. Most likely everyone has. That doesn't mean that it's too late to have a conversation with your child about it now. Talk to them, see how they feel, and then work together to figure out how you will change things going forward. You can encourage your child to advocate for themselves one peace sign or secret handshake at a time.

Why You Shouldn't Force Kids to Hug Others