I have worked with many families who have come to me after the holiday season stressed about the fact that their parents or other relatives were mad at them for setting boundaries when their child said “no” to a hug or a kiss. I can totally relate to them; I remember going to family gatherings when I was growing up, and everybody wanted a hug or a kiss, whether or not I even remembered who they were.
I always start by reminding these families that it’s okay to set boundaries and it’s okay for others to be upset by these boundaries. The trusted adults in our children’s lives need to understand that we are teaching our children it’s okay to say “no,” We want them to know that adults should always respect this.
If we are forcing hugs when our children are clearly communicating that they don’t want one, we are not setting them up for success – we want to teach them that they always have the right to say “no,” and everybody, even adults, needs to respect this.
We want our children to know that they should always use their internal instincts when it comes to consent and touching, and if they don’t feel comfortable, or they simply just don’t want to hug someone at that moment, they can say “no.” We want them to know that they are the boss of their body, and they get to choose who touches them. If they don’t feel like hugging someone, that’s okay!
So what do we do when grandparents don’t respect these boundaries?
It can be really difficult for grandparents (or other relatives) when their grandchild tells them they don’t want a hug. It can be challenging for them to understand and respect when the child says “no.”
Sometimes when their grandchild tells them they don’t want a hug, they start to feel like they aren’t as close to their grandkids as they thought. They might feel disrespected because they grew up with the message that children need to always listen to their grandparents. They might feel distance from you as you parent so differently than they did. They might be feeling like hugging is the best way to connect with their grandkids and wondering how else they might be able to connect.
The first thing I always encourage my clients to do is get curious with their child’s grandparents about why having a hug is so important.
- Is it part of their culture?
- Were they raised with this belief?
- Do they need alternative ways to connect?
- Do they feel judged for their parenting?
- Do they feel like they aren’t as close to their grandkids as they hoped?
- What comes up for them when they hear the child’s no?
When we can understand what causes our child’s grandparents to feel this way, we can better understand how to support them through these feelings and develop new ways to connect with our children when they don’t want a hug.
Scripts for setting boundaries
Here are some examples of how you can set boundaries when grandparents or other relatives don’t respect your child’s “no.”
“My kids had to hug their grandparents, and they turned out just fine.”
Acknowledge: “I see that you want to be as close with my kids as I was with your parents. I love that.”
Boundary: “You’re a safe and trusted adult. Sometimes that’s not the case, so we want them to learn to say no.”
Creative Yes: “Can you think of a different way you can show them affection?”
“I’m their grandparent, and they should hug me!”
Acknowledge: “I understand that you love them so much and just want to squeeze them.”
Boundary: “It’s important to me that my kids know they can say “no” to things they are uncomfortable with.”
Creative Yes: “Is there another way you can show the kids that you love them?”
“I don’t understand why you teach them that. Parents are so sensitive now.”
Acknowledge: “I can imagine it’s tough when there are changes and new rules.”
Boundary: “I’m sure there are changes with every generation of parents because we all want the best for our kids.”
Creative Yes: “Do you want to hear about why this is important for their safety?”
“We are teaching _____ that it’s okay to say no to hugs or kisses she doesn’t want. This is going to help her learn she’s in control of her body as she gets older. It’s cool to see her learning that she has the option of saying no!”
“________ I see you don’t want a hug right now. That’s okay.”
“I know you were really hoping for a hug, but I’m hearing she’s not interested in giving one right now. I get that’s tough, and I appreciate you respecting her no.”
Standing up for our kids is key
As with every generation that comes, our generation is learning and using new ways to keep our kids safe. This may come with pushback from previous generations but rest in the truth that protecting and standing up for your kids matters.
Setting boundaries and standing up for our kids is key. When we model how important consent is, we help our children learn that their NO truly matters.
These scripts are just ideas, and you want to make sure that you are coming from an authentic place that fits within your own values as a family when you are setting boundaries.
I know this can be difficult to discuss, and it’s not easy to set boundaries with family. Check out our workshops to learn more about teaching your children about body safety and consent.