There used to be a great bumper sticker that read, “Have you hugged your kid today?” The message was clear: Reach out and love your children in physical ways.
Touching can convey love, comfort and security. A simple touch can speak volumes, without the need to exchange words. A gentle squeeze of the hand tells us, “It’ll be OK,” and “I’m here for you;” a hair tousle, “I’m proud of you,” and “Good job!;” open hugs and kisses, “You are safe,” and “I love you.”
And when the unabashed expressions of love begin to be considered embarrassing or ‘sissy stuff,’ there are other, less intrusive ways to show affection. For the little bit older child, or the child who does not like hugs or being held, there’s always tickles, clapping games, hand holding and arm stroking.
For pre-teens, a pat on the back or a shoulder massage may be accepted. And then there’s always the grooming technique: a hair tousle or a finger-combing, a straightening of the tie or collar, brushing the hair off her face, may do the trick.
For teens, when touching becomes off-limits, and protests of, “Mom, leave my hair alone!” are heard, more creative measures may need to be found. We may have to use affectionate gestures such as winks, thumbs up, or facial expressions. Sometimes a private message left on e-mail or on the pillow conveys that affectionate connection. And I particularly like the secret codes, such as ‘SYL’ (see you later), and my personal favorite: ‘ILYMTYLM.’ Sorry, it’s just between my son and me!
There are always creative ways to express affection. But what if your child doesn’t want to show affection? I have cringed time and time again, as parents encourage, order or force their child to show affection to Great Aunt Tillie, the hair dresser or even yours truly. I think that children should show affection openly and freely when they feel comfortable to do so. In my case, after meeting a young child for the first time, many parents instruct their child to give me a hug or kiss. When the child refuses, the parent is either embarrassed or angry. I always reassure them that it is perfectly fine, and actually very appropriate that she doesn’t want to kiss a virtual stranger. I caution the parent to allow the child to make that decision for herself.
Whether it’s because of fat, bad breath, a lack of connection or some other reason known only to the child, please be careful not to force affection where it is either not felt or uncomfortable to display. Displays of affection should always be a choice. You can’t go wrong if you take your cue from your child.