Stop telling your children to hug Grandma.

“Come on give your Grandma a hug” I comply.

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I feel her whiskers bristle against my chin and her sloppy lips kiss my cheek, I can’t wait until this is over and I can wipe her spit off my face. She is squeezing me so tight I can barely breathe and I wonder how long this torture is going to last. She eventually lets go and I am unsure how to act, I know it’s rude to wipe my cheek and excuse myself but I feel my personal space has been violated, yet my Mum is looking at me like I should be thankful. I am 11 years old and the last thing I want to do is hug my Grandma, yet, as usual I go along because I also not keen on the shame that comes from stating that I don’t want to. I tried that last week and my “I don’t want to” was met with a torrent of words, like ungrateful, unkind and mean, all words I wouldn’t associate with myself. The same happens when I am told to “Give Auntie Doll” a kiss, give your Uncle a thank you hug and the worst of them all don’t I get a thank you hug. Why can’t I just say thank you and be done with it.

I am sure we all have similar memories of your childhood times where if we didn’t hug, kiss of show our appreciation to a family member we were seen as an outcast, often feeling so guilty with the aftermath that we just went along with it.

I was with my niece and nephew over Christmas and I heard the same things uttered to them after present giving. Give Auntie Sarah a hug. I quickly intervened. "Auntie Sarah loves you whether you give me a hug or not and I don’t mind what you do, only hug me if you want to". My Mother threw me a look that warned me I was being rube, but honestly I thought I was teaching the most important thing to my niece,her personal space is her own , her body is her own and she can do with it what she wants. A lesson I fear most children are still missing out on.

You see my worry is that when we tell children they must hug someone, even if they don’t want to, we are teaching them a lesson that they are not in charge of their own bodies or their own personal space and what someone else wants is far more important than what they want. And particularly to be giving this message to young girls worries me. The pressure for young girls to be sexual, to give themselves before they are ready is a constant. In the new era of relationships where sex seems to come before any form of intimacy teaching our young girls they don’t own their bodies does not set them up to easily say no when something gets out of hand.

You might say it’s only a hug with a family relative and I am taking this way out of hand, but fundamentally I think teaching our children that they own their bodies and they are in charge of their own personal space is one of the most important things we can do.

Forget about if it upsets Grandma, makes Aunt Doll mad or makes you even, as the parent feel guilty. Your child should know they can say No I don’t want to do that right now and feel fully OK with their decision.

Forcing them to hug Grandma is not polite, it’s not thoughtful, it's actually thoughtless and teaches your child what they want does not matter.

What your child wants does matter, saying no is an important skill and knowing when they do and do not what to let someone into their personal space is one of the most important skills they can learn.

Instead of telling your child who they must hug please let them know that hugs matter, but they are in charge of who they hug and when.

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Sarah Newton

Author, Speaker and Youth Coach

Sarah Newton has shared her innovative wisdom with millions who have tuned into her TV and Radio shows, followed her writing and listened to her unconventional talks. She has been described as a catalyst, daring all she meets to break out from social norms and follow their own path. She has worked in youth empowerment for over 30 years, first as a police officer and then eventually running her own business, via a stint at Disney World in Florida. Sarah has a no-nonsense, down-to-earth approach to solving most youth-associated problems, based on tactics that work, not rhetoric out of a book. She often is the only one in the room to stand by her viewpoint and tends to think the opposite from everyone else. Star of ITV’s “My Teen’s A Nightmare, I’m Moving Out” and author of “Help! My Teenager is an Alien – the everyday situation guide for parents”, Sarah has just teamed up with her daughter to write a novel to help girls with their body image issues, she has also written for The Guardian, The Huffington Post and the Daily Mail. Sarah also sits on the UK board of the Arbonne Charitable Foundation and is an ambassador for Girls Out Loud.