Respecting Children’s Boundaries

Recently, I went to my parents’ house to visit my extended family. It was a completely solo trip (No husband! No kids!), and I got to relax and visit with my little nephews.  I really enjoyed my time playing with them, and they seemed to enjoy hanging out with just me.Respecting Children's Boundaries - Natural Parents Network

When it was time to leave, I sought out my oldest nephew to say good-bye.  “Can I have a kiss and a hug?” I asked. He turned his back on me, clearly telling me he was not as happy as I was.

“Can I have a high five?” Again, the answer was clearly no – although this could be more due to the sand in his hands than ignoring me.

I wasn’t upset by his refusal. He was three, and three-year-olds are known for their honest feelings. Instead of forcing him to kiss me, I was simply going to say good-bye when an elderly relative came outside. “Come on, give your aunt a kiss!” he said.

“It’s okay, he doesn’t have to kiss me.” I turned back to Zee and said, “Okay, buddy, I love you. See you soon.”

“You should have had him give you a kiss,” my relative said as he walked me to the car.

“I’m not going to force him. I know he loves me, and he’s sad that I am leaving. He can kiss me later, if he wants.”

It’s true – I’m not going to force my nephew to show me signs of affection. I think everyone has heard stories of overbearing aunties who force kisses, pinch cheeks, and smell like liver. I don’t want to be that type of auntie to my nephews. I need to be a “safe person,” someone they can trust enough to say “no” to, and still know that I will love and protect them. Short of safety issues (like holding hands to cross the street), I don’t want to force children to do something physical that they don’t want to do. If they feel like they can’t refuse physical affection to adults they know and trust, will they feel like they can refuse requests for physical affection from less-trustworthy adults?

Some kids, however, aren’t physically affectionate. They don’t like to be hugged or give and receive kisses. Of course, everyone wants to let children know how loved they are, even without kisses and hugs. I know several families who have a special, silly “catch-phrase” to say good-bye, like “later, gator!” and “out the door, dinosaur!” One friend has a “secret handshake” with her niece. It’s pretty complicated to watch but looks really fun!

I’ve also taught my children (as my nephews have been taught) to be polite if they don’t feel like hugging or kissing. A simple, “No, thank you,” to an offered hug is fine. I encourage them to ask for a hand shake instead, because a nice, firm handshake is a good life skill to have! If they are rude, I deal with the rudeness – not the lack of hugs or kisses.

In the future, I hope that my children and their cousins will have healthy personal boundaries because they were free to say, “no, thank you,” to physical affection they don’t want . . . and, of course, a love for their aunt (or mom!)!

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About The Author: Laura

Walden Mommy: Life Behind the Red Front Door My NPN Posts

Laura is the mother to a herd of four small children, wife to her Engineer Husband, and owner of a pesky dog. She blogs about her life in the Midwest at Walden Mommy: Life Behind the Red Front Door.

28 Responses to Respecting Children’s Boundaries

  1. Pamela

    I agree mostly with what you said except for actually putting a child on the spot and asking if you can have a hug or kiss. that’s not really ok. If a child wants to, they will on their own volition. I have five children and They don’t NOR do I like or tolerate when people try to force hugs (or kisses) and putting them on the spot which can feel very awkward and uncomfortable and is honestly just weird in itself. An adult shouldn’t be trying to meet some weird emotional need for affection with a child. That doesn’t teach the child healthy boundaries.
    And when a child expresses to mom they don’t like it, and mom talks privately to said relative who does, then said relative puts the child on the spot in and reiterates it rather than just chill the F out and let things be, well, that pisses off mama bear. also, guilt trips. NO.
    My children’s fathers mother is insane and does all of the above, my kids don’t even want to be around her. My own mother respects their boundaries and doesn’t force herself on them (or try to force them onto her) and they naturally show her affection because they’re comfortable. Some people just have overbearing interaction styles and it’s not comfortable to have to deal with.
    Does anyone know how to get through to a thick headed overly needy person with no respect or even understanding for healthy boundaries? (This is the same person who whines and cries and has emotional hissy fits when she doesn’t get to hold my baby (one week old newborn baby worn and breastfeeding on demand…..)

    What does one do with a person like that? I’ve cut ties with her because she doesn’t respect my children or me. Unfortunately their father doesn’t even stand up for this. As a matter of fact himself has an issue with not respecting boundaries; case in pointZ my three year old fell yesterday. He went to pick her up and she pushed him away and said no leave me alone (clearly she wanted space and wanted to be in the moment ) he proceeded to pick her up anyways which made her irate and now more upset and arching her back to get down. I had to tell him off, her own father. And of course it makes me look like the bad guy. are people like him and his mother impossible to deal with?

    Can anyone help?