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Family Matters

Should You Make Kids Hug and Kiss Grown-Ups?

It can be awkward if your kid doesn't want to give Granny a smooch, but here's what to know

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My toddler daughter almost never wants to hug or kiss any more. It's one of the great tragedies of parenting. As soon as your kid becomes mobile, they are forever scooting out of your arms, on the move to something just out of reach. Meanwhile, if I ask for a kiss, I get: "Later, mommy. I kiss you later."

But when my kids choose not to kiss or hug a relative or friend-and it appears to hurt someone's feelings-I feel conflicted. As much as I want my children to be polite and loving, I also want them to know how to say no to unwanted affection. Here's what the experts say you should do when your kid doesn't want to hug or kiss a grown-up.  

Chat with your kid ahead of time. It's much easier for your child to tell you privately why they don't want to kiss Grandpa than to confront it in the moment. So if you suspect your kid might feel uncomfortable, talk about it in advance to get a sense of what might be okay-a kiss? A hug? A special handshake? It helps everyone set boundaries when you know, says Dr. Logan Levkoff, human sexuality educator and co-author of  Got Teens? The Doctor Moms' Guide to Sexuality, Social Media, and Other Adolescent Realities.

Teach them other ways to greet people. "Some kids need time to warm up before a hug or kiss is offered, but a warm hello can include a smile, hello, or a high-five. You are teaching your child that acknowledging another person is a feel-good experience for both of you," says Dr. Fran Walfish, a family psychologist in LA and author of The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building A Better Bond with Your Child .

Give adults the heads up. It's a good idea to tell any adults ahead of time if you think your child may not want to give a smooch. Explain that you feel it's important not to push it and help them find other ways to connect with your child. 

Start using the word "consent." The word "consent" doesn't have to have anything to do with sex and it's ideal to start using that word right away, according to Dr. Levkoff. "It's a tough thing for young people to understand, but it's important that they have some control over their body," Dr. Levkoff says. "Go ahead and ask things like, 'Did you give your brother consent to use that toy?'" As kids get older, the word won't be so scary-and children will be better equipped to express their concerns. 

Practice and role-play. One trick Levkoff suggests is to act out different scenarios with kids ahead of time. For example, what will happen when Granny walks through the door? This way, they will be ready for how to handle things in the moment-and down the road.