“Come Give Auntie a Kiss!”: Cultivating Consent Skills in Children

Many of us have been there. You were a kiddo hanging out with the family and Great Aunt Bea walked in. All the adults moved to greet her with hugs, love, maybe some kisses. And there you sat, unmoving.

At which point you were noticed and one of the aforementioned adults walks over takes your arm and says, “Come give your auntie a kiss! Coerced into overcoming your resistance you reluctantly walk over, half-hug your aunt and scurry away before she can get her pinchy hands to your cheeks.

As cliché and humorous as this situation presents, there are real issues at play and lessons to be learned.  As wonderful and loving as Auntie is and as excellent a relationship each of the adults may have already created with Auntie, you didn’t have a relationship that facilitated a comfort level with Auntie that included touch.

It is important to show respect, but touch should remain at the discretion of each person, especially when they are children. In the above scenario, children encouraged to connect through touch without consideration for the child’s consent short circuits their own process of assessing what they want and what they don’t.

As parents we have the opportunity to cultivate consent skills in our children starting from when they are young. Giving children the option for touch when you can, modeling your comfort with touch and even asking for consent to enjoy touch with your own children, gives them the opportunity to explore their comfort level and allow for touch on their own terms.

Regardless of who it is, extended family, friends and even parents, all adults should respect children as the individual human beings that they are and assess consent before they move in for the hugs or kisses. That may feel impersonal or not honoring the intimacy of family, but honoring a child’s own internal compass allows them to foster authentic intimacy.

Instead of “come give me a hug, you stinker as you chase your kiddo around the kitchen, try “I would love a hug when you feel like sharing one with me! When you encourage children to mindfully consider how and when they are physically affectionate, it cultivates the skills they will need as they develop personal relationships with those outside of their family. They learn to examine their feelings and act on them only when they decide using their own framework within their personal comfort zone.

Not only does this support mindful physical connection, but also empowers children to trust their own instincts and self-knowledge. Giving children the power over their own bodies allows for them to practice the internal process necessary to assess how and when they wish to touch and be touched.

Encouraging children to make their own decisions about touch and then exploring together the decision-making framework they employ supports the development of a mindful process based upon quality thinking. Asking questions for exploration, without judgment, helps children become acquainted with their unique internal process. It is also useful for you to share information about your decision-making process when you are choosing to be physically affectionate. The dialogue created will create its own insights and opportunities for sharing. Some examples of questions and statements that may be useful include:

  • “I loved that hug. Thank you! What made you want to hug me just then?”
  • “I would love to give you a hug. I’ve missed you so much today.
  • “It just feels so good to sit next to you and cuddle with you on the couch.
  • “I understand that you don’t feel like a hug right now. I don’t feel like hugging much when I am angry either.
  • “Sharing hugs with friends is so awesome sometimes and when someone asks if it okay first, it makes me feel good.

Allowing for children to practice skills when consenting to touch, giving and receiving, helps them explore what works for them at an early age. The more they practice asking for and granting consent now, the more comfortable the communication and the more nuanced their understanding of their own decision-making becomes. Respecting their instincts, trusting children to make decisions that are right for them and supporting them in exercising their decision-making cultivates consent skills they will use their whole lives.


Photo by zhouxuan12345678

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6 Responses

  1. Thank you so much to all of you for sharing your perspective! I am grateful! It takes parents like us to spread the word and support one another in these practices.

    Cheers to you all! 

  2. Kim says:

    This is so great to read! I’ve tried to make waiting for their consent a practice with kids and struggled a bit with how to convey that hugs are their call and me not hugging first isn’t a rejection. Your suggestions are fantastic. And I think saying to their parents in their presence is good too, especially if they’re shy or scared of me as some new stranger- they might not listen to my direct assurances when they’re in that mindframe.

  3. Celestine says:

    This is one of the hardest things for me as a parent. My youngest, when he gets into a temper, withdraws physically. I don’t force him to hug and kiss me, but I feel the absence of that affection very strongly. Of course, given time he comes around on his own and can be the cuddliest little guy.

    I grew up in a family that was very physically demonstrative. There were always hugs and kisses and tickles. When a friend of mine (who had been abused as a child) said that she didn’t let her relatives tickle her kids it was hard for me to assimilate that. Now that I have kids of my own and they tell me they don’t like their grandpa tickling them, I make sure that everyone knows that the kids have limits and those limits need to be respected. Great article. 

  4. Katherine says:

    It’s definitely inappropriate to coerce kids into expressing affection they may not feel, and it gives them the impression that showing affection is not always their decision to make. What a great article! Thanks!

  5. Hi Kristen~

    Thank you so much for the feedback. I am grateful it resonates. I agree that authentic affection feels so much better…and it feels better when you give it intentionally too!  

    Thanks so much for sharing your perspective!


  6. Kristen says:

    This is amazing. I grew up in a family where physical affection like this was forced. Actually, I had a great-aunt that would bribe myself and my siblings with candy. So, we traded physical affection for snacks. Now, I have two young cousins- ages 5 and 7 who are routinely forced by their parents to hug relatives, myself included at times. I’ve always refused the hugs, saying they don’t have to if they don’t want to, because frankly, it makes me feel really uncomfortable. What’s amazing, and what I wish the parents would realize, is that after a little bit of time warming up, and playing some games together, the youngsters are always much more physically affectionate. I’d much rather a genuine hug.

    Fantastic article. Thank you!