Why We Must Support Children Who Refuse Hugs & Kisses

Why We Must Support Children Who Refuse Hugs & Kisses

Children are small and dependent, and as a result, we tend to have do most things for them. As adults and parents, we also determine ‘how’, ‘where’, ‘what’, ‘when’ and ‘who’ in our child’s lives most of the time, too. This often leaves littlies feeling like they have little or no agency over their lives.

Most of these things are done without much thought in the busy routines of our day-to-day lives. It’s not that your child’s feelings or needs are irrelevant, but the loss of agency and limited opportunities to express independent needs can sometimes unintentionally contribute to your child’s daily challenges.

We insist they should eat something when they tell us they’re not hungry. We tell them it’s okay even when their cries insist that it isn’t, and sometimes we encourage them to cuddle people they don’t want to. No big deal, right? After all, you wouldn’t want to hurt grandma’s feelings.

There isn’t anything wrong with a child, or in fact a person of any age, refusing a kiss or cuddle. You’ve probably had days where you haven’t felt like being hugged much… only you have the benefit of being an adult and being able to say no. If your child says no to a hug or kiss from a friend or family member, this is a message that should be respected. And as the parent, it’s your job to make sure it is.

Here are 8 reasons why we must support children who says no to a cuddle or kiss:

#1: It Teaches Consent

One of the most important lessons we need to teach our kids is consent. And one thing all parents know is that children learn more by our actions than they do from our words. It’s no good telling your child about the importance of consent if you’re contradicting the lesson whenever it’s time to say goodbye to a family member.

If you truly want your child to understand the importance of consent, then you must respect his wishes when it comes to his body. And this means not forcing him to cuddle your friends, grandparents, or picking him up when he doesn’t want you to.

#2: He Doesn’t Want One

It’s that simple. If he doesn’t want to cuddle grandpa, he shouldn’t have to cuddle grandpa. If he wants to ride in the car without his seatbelt fastened, that’s different.

As a parent, it’s your job to keep your child safe, and this sometimes means he’ll have to do things he’s not happy about. Cuddling grandpa isn’t one of those things. Him not wanting to should be enough of a reason that he doesn’t have to cuddle grandpa. You may find it a little embarrassing that he refuses to kiss your mother-in-law, and worry that she thinks you’re doing a terrible job of raising her grandchildren, but that doesn’t override your child’s body autonomy.

#3: He Should Have Control Over His Own Body

You spent nine long months growing your child’s body in yours, nine (or perhaps nineteen!) hours giving birth to it, and countless months nurturing it. But that doesn’t mean you have any claims over it.

One of the hardest realisations parents make is that while they created and nurtured that gorgeous little body and never want to let it go, it does belong to someone else. It’s his body, and he should be free to control it as he wishes. And that means it’s up to him whether he wants to give cuddles or kisses, and if he doesn’t, you should respect that. By giving your child respect over his body, you teach him that everyone should have control over their own bodies. The only way to truly teach this lesson, is to practice it with your child. No means no.

#4: It Goes Against What We Believe

Many parents try to respect the wishes of their young children these days. We know that control is a sticking issue that causes a lot of tensions in families. Young children battle with control as they develop a healthy sense of self identity. They want to make choices and decisions. If we don’t allow this expression of self, young children grow frustrated and emotional. And so many parents offer choices throughout the day. Which cereal would you like for breakfast? What would you like to wear today? Which story shall we have before bed? And yet, when it comes to kissing family members, many parents are falling into old parenting patterns. The choice is taken away, and children are told to do it anyway.

#5: Forced Physical Contact Sends A Weird Message

Put simply, nobody should ever have to do anything with their body that they don’t want to do. And being guilt-tripped into it is not a good reason to relinquish control of your own body. And yet, that’s what is happening when we force children to kiss grandma goodbye against their will. They see the sadness on grandma’s face when they refuse, and then the happiness when they are forced into it. And from this they learn that physical contact can make people happy, is that really a lesson we want our kids to learn?

#6: Lack Of Attachment

The people we most want our children to hug are usually people who have played an important role in our own lives. Perhaps it’s your favourite uncle, or your best friend from university who you wish your child would embrace. And though you may share a deep personal history with that person, it’s important to remember that your child doesn’t. Your child doesn’t have an instant lifelong friendship with everyone you know. In fact, your child is busy making his own friendships and relationships. This doesn’t mean your child isn’t ever going to love your friends as much as you do. It just means he isn’t there yet. Give it time, let him get to know them and, most importantly, let him lead the situation. That way, when he does reach out for a goodbye hug, it will mean even more.

#7: There Might Be A Good Reason

Sometimes children don’t want physical affection because they’re not in the mood, and other times it could be a specific person they don’t want to cuddle. It could just be one of those things, there’s no reason why but your child just doesn’t want to give them a kiss goodbye. Or, your child might not have enjoyed their visit. Perhaps they teased your child too much, accidentally hurt them or maybe your child is scared of their beard (if that’s the case with grandma, it’s probably best not to tell her).

It doesn’t have to be logical, you may have noticed that young children are not the most logical people at the best of times, but it should be respected. And, though it is rare, abuse does happen. And it is often friends or family members who are the abusers. If your child doesn’t want to say goodbye to somebody, respect that. If it develops into an ongoing theme, talk to your child about why he doesn’t like that person. Read BellyBelly’s tips on how to best protect your child from sexual abuse here.

#8: Grandma Can Take It

Sometimes, as parents, we found ourselves encouraging our children to do things simply because it will make life easier or seem a little more polite. We encourage our kids to kiss grandma so that they don’t look rude, and so that grandma (or Uncle Jim, or whoever) doesn’t get upset or offended. Of course friends and family members want to be close to your children, and definitely want to go home with that warm glow you get from being liked. But this isn’t your child’s responsibility. Grandma is old enough to take a little bit of rejection every now and again. She won’t go home and cry into her pillow, but your child probably will get upset if forced into doing something he doesn’t want to do.

It might make for an uncomfortable minute when your child refuses a cuddle, but it’s your job to validate your child’s feelings and then stick up for them. ‘Ok, no kisses today then,’ or something along those lines should do it. If you want to, you can always ring the adult later and explain that it’s nothing personal, you’re just respecting your child’s body autonomy.

Recommended Reading

If you’re interested in the arguments for children having control over their own body, you might enjoy this article on why smacking should be avoided.

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Fiona Peacock is a writer, researcher and lover of all things to do with pregnancy, birth and motherhood (apart from the lack of sleep). She is a home birth advocate, passionate about gentle parenting and is also really tired.


  1. If You force your child to kiss and hug everybody they meet you setting your child up for predators. At young ages sometimes they don’t understand Why somebody touch them in a certain way that did not feel comfortable. This does not mean that every person that the child he rejects a hug or kiss from is a predator. They just want their boundaries respected

  2. Thank you. This is the first time I’ve read a piece on respecting a child’s body. Usually we get told children have to kiss, they have to hug. I find it absurd in so many ways.

  3. This post isn’t negative in any way but I just wanted to share my personal perspective. I was that child who refused hugs. I don’t remember running away or refusing when I was an infant. But later in my teenage years I craved my mothers hugs. But she never gave them. I asked her one day why I always saw her hugging my sister and not me. And she told me that I denied her of that since I was a baby so she just gave me my space.
    She felt bad and then one day tried hugging me only to find me walking backwards to avoid it.
    I was confused. I don’t know why she was coming towards me. I didn’t understand why she was hugging me.
    I didn’t feel anything.
    Now my sister on the other hand LOVES being hugged and loves hugging. If she could physically be attached to someone 24/7 I think she’d do it.
    She has always refused to not hug me.
    She’d ask me to cuddle and I’d roll my eyes and go along.
    It is to the point that now I’m 23 and love hugs from her. I have my days but she softened me up.
    I believe my sister has made me partly who I am. It’s okay to hug. It’s not dorky or weird. It’s love.
    I didn’t understand that.
    Unfortunately though hugging my mom feels forced still and I don’t feel anything when I try to do it.
    Even when she cries 70% of the time I dont feel bad. I am more tempted to leave her there crying and get on with my day rather than cry with her or hug her.
    I think that’s where the problem comes in.

    My sister hugged me in a healthy way.
    My mom listened to me when I said no.
    Yes I am a lot more independent and outspoken than my sister. But grew up feeling unloved. Maybe there is another way of a child receiving love other than hugs. Maybe my mom didn’t know how else to give it so I never got it.

    So I think that if you have a child who refuses hugs.. yes be healthy about it. Don’t force yourself on them. I cringe at that too. And my sister still gets cringes on some days. But also let them know it’s ok. A hug is a soft and silent way of saying I love you, and you’re safe here.
    I needed that but I didnt know any better and refused. Now I’m left paying for it.

  4. Not a comment but some advice needed really my son screams at the inlaws from the minute they arrive to the minute they leave, weather they touch him speak to him or not. As soon as we leave he is all smiles and giggles again.
    What should I do

    1. Thank you so much for posting this. My daughter began refusing my hugs when she was eight. It devastated me, and I have no idea where her refusal stemmed from. She’s 14 now, and other than special moments like Christmas morning, I don’t attempt hugs anymore out of respect for her wishes. Now I’m questioning how I’ve handled this, because I think the lack of physical contact is causing her emotional problems. Now that there’s been a huge gap of hugless time, it feels too late to encourage affection. Something people need to think about..I wish I had sought family counseling when trying to decide how to handle her refusal of affection.

  5. My son is this way as he is turning 13 on Wednesday and I always thought it was because when he was little and would kiss me his dad would make a face and go “ewww” and so it made him not want affection but now I realise it’s probably just puberty and hormones. I always leave it open ended with my son by telling him that if he ever wants a hug or a kiss that he come to me any time. So I have left it up to him to initiate contact. I did feel kind of upset about it because I would see other kids his age kiss their moms but he wouldn’t with me, but now I realize that I need to respect his decision and back off and just give words of affection instead. Great article. really has helped me;

  6. My 5 year old grand daughter suddenly did not want to be hugged or even touched by me. We went on a weeks vacation. She was perfectly fine for about 5 days then suddenly changed. This has happened to my husband before too ( her Grand father). Is this normal?

  7. I have never looked up this topic, but I have always been this way. I am now 60 years old. When I was a child, around 2nd grade, I told everyone in my family no more kisses. I wrote it down on paper and everyone knew I didn’t want to kiss hello and goodbye. When I got older, I would be more affectionate, but didn’t like relatives to give me wet kisses, just cheek. I just looked up why I might have been this way.
    Also now, I am still touch sensitive, I don’t know why. I love people and enjoy friends, but it’s just a strange way that I am. I was married and divorced too. I was very touchy with my kids, but I have one son that turned out a lot like me.

  8. My husband and I adopted our great granddaughter at age 4. She is now almost 12 years old, and is a happy child, but never shows much affection towards us. If I say I love you, she refuses to say it back. If I ask for a hug, she backs away. I never see her show dissappointment either. In other words, if I said we’re going to the movies tomorrow and then it doesn’t take place, she just accepts it. Shows no emotion. Her paternal grandparents are no longer welcome here, and I’ve asked how she feels about that, she says, “it’s fine with her.” Is there a problem with her?

    1. Barbara, I could be way out of left field but I recommend looking up childhood psychopathy and research it and see if that describes your granddaughter. At her age, you can still nurture her and at least mold her into someone that won’t hurt people as an adult. If they don’t describe her, she may just be easy going and just doesn’t like to be touched. Kids are very resilient.

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