In most families, children are expected to kiss their relatives hello and goodbye. When a child does this spontaneously, parents are pleased, and when he doesn’t, they prompt him, “Give Grandma and Grandpa a kiss. They haven’t seen you in such a long time.” Parents often feel that they’ll be judged unfavorably if their 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. “What’s the matter with him? Is he shy?” The uneasy parent might urge him to “give Aunt Sue a kiss since she gave you a present.” This can put a great deal of pressure on the child, who will usually give in if harassed enough. But the resulting discomfort for the child 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 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 be busy playing or 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 goodbye because he doesn’t want a visit to end, although he’s too young to 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 feeling the pressure to give a kiss or having a relative 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 visits with relatives.