Preschoolers & Strangers in the Family: Do You Force Affection?



The autumn and winter holiday season is upon us and families are planning gatherings. It is wonderful when extended families get together. We want our young children to know their relatives and feel loved; yet, we put them in the oddest situations. We want our children to perform all their tricks – singing, dancing, saying the funniest things – for people they barely know. We want them to hug and kiss people they rarely see - though we’ve taught them to keep their distance from strangers. I remember when I was a little girl and was forced to kiss Great Aunt Rose. I saw her only at special occasions. I saw her as a huge, imposing woman though I was small so she probably wasn’t as big and scary as I remember. She had a distinct aroma which I now know was some combination of bad perfume and, perhaps, moth balls. I was intimidated and never voluntarily approached her. I’m sure she could have been a lovely person but all I remember is my parents and grandparents saying, “Did you kiss Aunt Rose? Kiss Aunt Rose.” Perhaps you have a similar story.

If we want children to feel warmly about family, we need to give them a chance to feel secure. We may know every distant relative but they are strangers to children who cannot differentiate between our conflicting messages. We give our children time to get to know other children, teachers and friends. We need to show the same understanding at family gatherings and ask well-meaning relatives to give our children time to get to know them. After all, that is the goal. We want our children to feel comfortable enough to get to know them. When the children feel comfortable, they will perform and will say the cutest things. When they feel intimidated, they will not. As your young children encounter new relatives, be sure to:
  • Introduce them. “Kiss Aunt Rose” is not an introduction. Just as you would in any other situation, introduce your child to the new person. “Cindy, this is Aunt Rose. She is my aunt, too. Aunt Rose, this is Cindy” will make a child feel more comfortable. 
  • Let your children see you affectionately greet people first. Your children trust you. If you are warm with family, they will learn to be, too. They are far more apt to give the relatives a chance if they see you hugging, kissing, conversing, laughing and relaxing with family. You are their role model. Give them the opportunity to observe your behavior. 
  • Privately ask your children if they would like to sing or dance rather than in front of everyone. When we are respectful of our children’s feelings, they learn that their feelings matter. Healthy relationships with our children depend upon honesty and validation of feelings. Avoid embarrassing them (at least until they are older and you can pull out those awkward baby bath pictures). 
  • When departing, ask them if they would give people hugs and kisses rather than demanding it. They get to decide who touches them in every other arena. When children in the playground try to hug them and they are uncomfortable, we give them the words – “Tell him to stop.” When siblings get into physical altercations, we give them the chance to say and demonstrate that that they don’t like that. They should always have a choice about intimate touching. 
Remember that love and affection build over time. I may ask if I can have a kiss or a hug and if the answer is no, so be it. I recognize that children who rarely see me will not have the chance to know me and I really don’t know them. They get to treat me like a stranger – after all, we are strangers. I keep a fair distance, smile at them and let them approach me. I want children to want to show me their skills because they are proud of themselves and want to make me smile. When children hug me, I want it to be because they know and like me. It is about their feelings of warmth and security, not mine. Encourage your family to help you teach about relationships, comfort, respect, socialization and self-worth by giving your children the space to feel safe and comfortable. The rest will come.
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Copyright 2013 © Cindy Terebush
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Comments

  1. I agree totally with your perspective on this important subject. Honest relationships with our children begins with respect. You are spot on again!

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