Developmental pediatricians are telling parents to reconsider the age-old practice of forcing children to hug or kiss members of the extended family when gathering at the holidays. They say doing so takes away the child’s autonomy over their own body and sends a message that it’s OK for others to demand affection.

The Girl Scouts published a parenting-advice article on the subject, titled: “Reminder: She Doesn’t Owe Anyone a Hug. Not Even at the Holidays.”

Dr. Jack Levine, an executive committee member on developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the American Academy of Pediatrics, says what parents might see as simply showing respect or love for an elder can actually have a lasting impact on a child.

“They feel that external forces are more or equally as important as their own feelings and who they should be kissing and hugging, and then later on in life, who they should be intimate with,” Levine (@doctoj) tells Here & Now’s Robin Young.

There are also other ways for children to interact with adult family members and family friends this time of year.

“They can take their coats when they come in, they can make drawings for them,” Levine says. “They can make place cards — do a number of other things, rather than things that they feel uncomfortable with.”

On why “forced affection” is problematic

“If you force children to hug or kiss someone who they may not know very well, then they’re not having a say in the decision on who to show their affection to. And then they begin to feel that showing this affection is expected at someone else’s asking, and that their feelings and thoughts don’t really matter on the issue, which is not a very positive experience for them.”

– Robyn Young & Jack Mitchell

Read more: Don’t Force Your Kids to Hug and Kiss Relatives During the Holidays, Pediatrician Says

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