Holiday Hugs: Yes or No?

Think of the last time you upgraded your cell phone. You picked out a new phone that had everything you wanted. You were all set to go when a salesman swooped in to convince you that you needed something fancier and more expensive. He tried to talk you into buying a phone that had enough storage to fit every song ever recorded, the ability to find your car keys anywhere in the world, and space to store 10,000 contacts. And you can get all of these awesome features on a phone that costs $200 more than the one you originally decided to get. But do you really need any of that stuff? Is it worth the extra money? Chances are, probably not. So what do you say? “No thanks. I’ll take the phone I picked out.”

We all know that there are situations where saying yes just doesn’t make sense. Somewhere along the way, you learned that you had the power to say no, and this is something important for you to teach your child. Sure, there are situations where you don’t want your kid to say no—they don’t get to refuse to clean their room. But as a parent, you can help them identify situations where they have a say in what happens and empower them to use their voice and trust their intuition. People need to get their consent, and they need to seek consent from others.

One place where a child should have a say is in showing affection to people. Here at Defend Innocence we’re big about letting kids be affectionate on their own terms. During the holidays, your child will be interacting with a lot of family and friends. When you get together with loved ones, tell your kid that they can decide how to interact. Here are four people your kid doesn’t have to hug this holiday season. If your child wants to hug, cool. If not, no big deal. Don’t force the hug. Let them know they have that choice to say no when these people want a hug:

  • Your Best Friend

    You may be excited to see your BFF from high school when he’s visiting for the holidays. Even though you’ve talked about him a lot, he’s still a stranger to your child. Forcing physical affection could be uncomfortable.

  • Your Second Cousin's Girlfriend

    There are bound to be a few distant relatives at one of your holiday family gatherings. You might be asking, “What’s this cousin up to again? He did an internship over the summer in Chicago, right? Or was it in Texas somewhere? Have I met this girlfriend before?” If you can’t remember much about this person, chances are he doesn’t remember your child too well and vice versa. Maybe skipping the hug is a better choice.

  • Grandma

    Okay, the random family members that show up at Thanksgiving dinner are one thing, but what about close relatives? What will grandma think if one of her grandkids doesn’t want to hug her? Let your kids know that there are lots of ways they can express affection. Ask grandma if she wants a fist bump or a high five. She might even think it’s cuter than a hug.

  • Santa Claus

    If you celebrate Christmas, this can be seen as a rite of passage for kids, but if your child isn’t excited about sharing their wish list with a stranger, no need to push it. Especially since sending a letter apparently works just as well.

A Hug Isn’t Just a Hug

This holiday season, give your child a voice and encourage them to use it. Teach them about consent. You can help your child develop intuition about their interactions and help them develop the confidence they need to communicate their preferences. Interactions with a grandparent might be pretty low stakes, but you’re helping your child develop a voice they can use in a future situation that really matters like when someone they’re dating tries to cross a line. Educating your child about sexual health happens over years in small but meaningful interactions. Start now.

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