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Thursday, 9 January 2014

Should children be forced to kiss their relatives?

Should children be forced to kiss their relatives?
In the British press today there is some debate about whether children should be forced to kiss their relatives. Over the festive season many children will have been put in the situation where they are expected to show physical affection to adult relatives that they rarely see - and with whom they do not have a loving and trusting relationship.

I remember as a child being taken to parties where there were all sorts of people who my parents knew - both friends and relatives - and being expected to kiss them goodbye. I remember one particular instance where I was put in the situation, when I was around five or six years old, where I had to kiss a man with a really scratchy beard and bad breath. On top of it all, he had been drinking just a little too much. It has stuck in my mind as one of the most unpleasant things I've ever had to do. Why should I make my children go through similar experiences?

Now, you may argue that not every granny in the land has facial hair, bad breath and has consumed too much alcohol. I'm sure they haven't. The fact remains that they are the adult in this situation. I have learnt from watching my children interact with adults that some have the knack of making them feel comfortable, and others really don't. However, as the adult in the relationship these people need to earn the trust of the child before expecting any kind of physical affection. This is the only way that I can see that we can teach our children to trust their instincts when it comes to forming a relationship where showing affection is appropriate. In this age of scandal after scandal involving sexual abuse of children teaching our children to trust their judgements to keep themselves safe must be our priority.

From watching my children with other adults these are the tips I would give to adults to help them form a loving and trusting relationship with their young friends and relatives.

  1. Respect their space. When meeting a child for the first time, treat them much as you would an adult. Don't push your face right up against their's and start tickling them before you've hardly said hello, or even talk really loudly in their faces. Say hello. Maybe offer to shake their hand. Ask them how they are. Ask them what book they've enjoyed recently. Or just let them be.
  2. Let them get used to your presence. Once you've said hello settle down and let the child get used to you being there. Once they get over their initial shyness they will probably be very interested in you as a new person.
  3. Show an interest in what they're interested in. If a young toddler starts playing with a toy let them settle to the task and when they're engaged and happy try engaging with what they're doing in a gentle way. Don't over-whelm them with your attention. If you leave it long enough they might come to you and show you what they're playing with. If a child has clearly been doing something before your arrival ask questions about what they're doing and ask to be shown what they've achieved. For example, if they've been drawing comment on the drawing, ask them about it, suggest you do another drawing together.
  4. Offer to do something with the child while the other adults are talking. If the child is clearly bored by the adult's company, once they have got used to your presence, offer to play with them, or read to them, draw with them or do a puzzle with them. If they don't want your attention respect that and don't force the issue.
  5. Bring them a present. You might say this is bribery but it goes a long way to making people popular with my children! It doesn't have to be expensive. A pencil with a rubber on the end or a small ball will do the job. You can then play with it together. I wouldn't give them the present as soon as you arrive though. Let them get over their initial shyness and they will be more enthusiastic about it. This way they may also be less likely to associate your arrival with a present. (If you're looking for something a bit more special why not get them something beautiful from my shop. To get ideas on gifts for babies sign up for my Free Baby Gift Guide at the bottom of this post).
  6. Treat them as a person. Respect the child as an individual, as a person with their own will, likes, dislikes and preferences.
  7. See them frequently. If possible, see the child often enough so that they remember all the good efforts you put in last time you saw them. If they can't remember you, you'll be starting from scratch every time you see them.
Doing these things will go a long way to earning their trust. Even after this they may not want to kiss or cuddle you. Some people just don't like kissing and cuddling. My daughter resists it all the time. I would love her to kiss and cuddle me but she's too independent and busy for all that fussing. When they do honour you with a kiss or cuddle be gentle. Don't prolong it longer than they wish to. Don't frighten them off. You will have wasted all your good work.

I'm not condoning rudeness in our children here. I'm asking you to be polite to them - respect their wishes and sensibilities, as ultimately this is the essence of being polite. A final thought - if an adult man were to force an adult woman to kiss him that could very easily be interpreted as assault.

Should children be forced to kiss their relatives? Leave your thoughts in the comments below....

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