Thursday, May 9, 2013

Here comes Mama Bear... or why we shouldn't force our kids to kiss hairy old relatives

Those parents who do not force our children to kiss their leathery Aunt Marjorie upon first meeting, aren't doing it to 'portend doom'  ("Why children need to feel the pinch," Macleans, May 13, 20013).   We do it so that our children will listen to their natural fight or flight response. Yes, it used to be a rite of passage that all kids had to endure. I was swept into many an uncomfortable embrace with complete strangers who happened to be 'family.'

If a stranger in the street wanted to hug your kid - would you let them?  Would you demand that your child kiss this stranger?  Would you poo-poo any ‘childish’ fears they might have about close personal contact with this stranger?  Not a chance.   Why then, when this stranger happens to be family, do people feel that thrusting their children into discomfort is okay, that giving an unwilling embrace to make another person content, is a good thing?  It's not.

That doesn't mean that children don't have to be courteous in their interaction with others - saying "goodnight," or "hello" is a reasonable request and one that I firmly encourage.
Yes, Anna Teitel, “a pity kiss for Aunt Marjorie when you’re 6 is a long way off from pity sex with a manipulative college boyfriend when you’re 21.”  It is a long way off, but that just means that the pattern of offering physical contact under duress has been going on for 15 years.  How’s that for conditioning?  I’m not a helicopter parent.  My 12 year old daughter walks to and from school – sans adult – and has done so since she was eight.  Much to my abject parental terror, she’s ridden the subway alone, and we both survived. 

When we teach children to ignore instinct, we teach them to get into a car with a stranger, to ride the elevator when everything in them screams not to, to offer up affection to make someone else feel good.  


When playing the tickle game?  When the kid is screaming hysterically for you to stop?  Stop. 

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