In most families,
children are expected to kiss their relatives hello and good-bye.
When a child does this spontaneously, his parents are pleased, and
when he doesn’t, they usually prompt him, “Give Grandma and Grandpa
a kiss. They haven’t seen you in such a long time.” Parents know how
nice it feels to be kissed by a child. They want their child to be
liked by relatives, and they feel that they’ll be judged unfavorably
if he child doesn’t give a kiss.
Yet, many children are uncomfortable kissing their relatives and
often don’t want to do it. This can create an awkward situation,
especially when a relative feels rejected by the child or feels that
he’s not excited to see her. And if the relative has brought him a
gift and still doesn’t get a kiss, she might feel particularly
frustrated and begin to say negative things such as, “What’s the
matter with him? Is he shy?” His uneasy parent may urge him to “give
Aunt Sue a kiss since she gave you a present,” and Aunt Sue may say,
“I’ll take my gift back home with me.” AJI of this can put a great
deal of pressure on the young child, who will usually give in if
harassed enough. But the resulting discomfort for him and his
parents is often not worth the struggle.
A child who resists giving a kiss is probably not rejecting a
relative. Most children are excited about seeing family members, but
feel uneasy giving a kiss hello for any of a number of reasons. A
child may just not be comfortable with the physical contact of a
kiss, or, feeling shy and self-conscious, may reject kissing because
he doesn’t like to be focused on. He may want to stay close to his
parents, even cling to them, until he feels adjusted to the visitors
or to being in a relative’s house.
Sometimes a relative is one the child rarely sees, and he resists
kissing because he needs time to get used to a strange face. A few
children have private or magical concerns about kissing. One five
year-old worried that he would “turn old” if he kissed his aunt,
while another child reported that she didn’t want to kiss her
relatives because “people give you germs on your lips.” And at times
a child won’t give a kiss good-bye because he doesn’t want a visit
to end, although he may not explain this.
If you’re faced with a resisting child, try to let the kiss go—most
children just need time to ease into a visit and feel friendly.
Instead of insisting, suggest other options for your child. He could
tell his relatives about something that has recently happened,
demonstrate a new skill, or show them a favorite possession. And
even if he won’t kiss, he may willingly “give five,” shake hands,
blow a kiss, or give a hug good-bye.
We can all remember being small and having a relative pinch our
cheeks or demand a kiss. If we recall how we felt then, we can
understand our own children’s reluctance to give kisses, and can
help them find other ways to begin and end enjoyable visits with