When the parents participate with the little ones in the festive meals, and the relatives from the first youth are also present at the event, it is expected that they will want to lighten the occasion. And the latter might automatically feel that he wants to escape from the room.
“Come on, come hold me, I want to kiss you,” an affectionate aunt would say. And in response, the child remains silent and freezes, but finally arrives (pushed from behind by mom or dad) in front of the lady who is waiting for him with open arms.
It’s true, the parents’ intentions are good, because they don’t want to upset a close relative, and they don’t want the little one to be labeled “badly raised.”
But psychologists point out that pressuring a child to show affection when he doesn’t feel it can send the wrong signals about who’s really in charge of his actions and body, according to HuffPost.
“Children should not be forced to accept someone else touching their bodies”
“As parents, if we want to teach our children to listen to their instincts, to expect others to respect their own boundaries, and to say ‘no’ when they’re not feeling safe, we should respect this context – whatever the situation ”, explained Aliza Pressman, co-founder of the Mount Sinai Parenting Center and author of a parenting podcast.
It is true, many parents nowadays try to teach their children that the concept of “body autonomy” (a person’s right to safely decide what happens to their own body without external influences) and the concept of consent ( permission for an action to take place – in this case, physical contact).
In this context, when the child is pushed from behind to hug one of the grandparents, the parent is directly conveying to them to ignore their discomfort about this situation.
“Children should never be forced to accept another person touching their body against their will. (…) There is already a big power imbalance in the parent-child relationship, so the little ones are often scared when they don’t comply with the adults’ demands. This can lead to even more vulnerability or even abuse,” pointed out Laura Markham, psychologist and author of professional papers.
A pre-meeting chat can save the holidays
So what should be done in such situations? Especially because when a grandparent wants to be hugged by the child, the parent quickly turns on to somehow manage the whole emotional situation.
“Many times, we feel uncomfortable when we disappoint relatives. Many times we even feel ashamed when our children are not friendly with the people we know love them,” added Aliza Pressman.
Specialists recommend that adults take their time, take a deep breath and understand that their task is to help children believe in themselves. Especially because a parent’s job is not to take care of other relatives’ emotions.
And to avoid unpleasant episodes for the child, he would benefit from a preparatory discussion before the family reunion. Here, he will be advised to interact as he feels: either wave, smile or clap. But if relatives still want to hold him, the parent can use helpful lines for the child, such as: “Aren’t you ready for a hug now? I understand, maybe later.”