Do Children Have to Hug?

My three year-old is very good at giving spontaneous hugs. He often hugs his teachers, his grandparents, and his friends, enveloping them in a tight, slightly-sticky squeeze.

kids hugHe will ask for hugs too. Sometimes he’s trying to stall bedtime, or working up to asking for a treat, but also he will ask just because he likes them.

But sometimes, when he isn’t sure of a new person, or if he is just feeling tired and overwhelmed, he will refuse to hug. Instead, he will stand rigid, chin tucked down to one side, eyes averted – a small but determined protest.

I used to insist that if he was invited to hug someone, he should do so because it hurt the person’s feelings to refuse.

But lately, I’m not so sure.

If he doesn’t want to hug or be hugged, why should he be forced to? His emotions and appreciations are evolving; he is becoming a better judge of situations, better able to monitor his stimulus-level, better able to determine if he likes and trusts someone.

In these instances, instead of forcing a reluctant compliance, I have been trying to give him a polite way to decline: “No, thank you” or “I prefer not, thanks”.

My change of heart was prompted in part from reading articles that assert giving children a sense of their personal rights is important not only for developing self-worth, but that it may help guard against physical and sexual abuse by instilling in children a sense of their personal rights.

They seem like such grown-up phrases coming from that little mouth, but he manages them admirably. Being able to refuse an adult invitation gives him a sense of autonomy over his actions, and what small child doesn’t enjoy a taste of big-kid independence?

064bed847dcf54bab8fba5f82dcf4b2cWith these new forms of language, he discovers new ways to interact with the world and, hopefully, an inkling that his words and actions matter because they have the power to effect others — even grown ups. This last one is quite the brain- tickler for a small boy who developmentally may not be fully cognizant of the notion that other people have thoughts and feelings too.

As with all things relating to small children, it’s a careful negotiation: how do explain that he can decline a hug, but that it’s not acceptable to refuse other requests?

And how do you keep a straight face when you ask your child to clean up his toys and hear, “I prefer not, Mummy”!?







You may also like


  1. Bravo! What an excellent post. I totally agree with you that children should be empowered to make their own choices not forced into feeling uncomfortable because of others needs or feelings. My boy has ASD and hugging for him is often very uncomfortable due to the sensory stimulation. If forced into a hug or kiss he will often say; Er you smell. Some people (including my family) have found this hard to accept and think he is rude! Well actually I think that they are being inconsiderate of his feelings. A spontaneous hug from my big son means the world!
    Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Thanks Catie! Your son’s comment is hilarious and probably does the job as well as the phrases we use! And yes, when the hugs are spontaneous they are the BEST! 😉 Thanks for reading!

  2. I used to do exactly what you did and politely inform my kids they should reciprocate if someone gave them a hug. The penny then dropped that they have their own rights even if they are both young and that my approach sent out completely the wrong message. There is no forced hugging in this household whatsoever. In fact I get really annoyed when strangers come up to my kids and talk to them in the street. You spend all this time telling your kids not to talk to people they don’t know and then someone fifty years their senior strides up to them and engages them in conversation. They should know better! #wineandboobs

  3. I agree with this – it is important that children know that they can politely decline a hug and as you say, it helps teach the that it is their body and their right to say yes or no which hopefully helps to protect them too. It is hard though to make them realise that not everything is quite so negotiable! I think I would struggle not to laugh too if I asked my child to help put away the toys and received a “I prefer not, Mummy” in response!

  4. I feel a bit bad reading this! We are all big huggers in my family and sometimes my girl doesn’t want to hug her grandpa or grandma specifically and it really upsets them so I do make her…but not reading this I’m unsure if I should still do that. Hmmm food for thought…#sharewithme

    1. Hi Talya! A lot of the time, I think my kids are just being a bit stubborn when they refuse to hug! I’ve tried doing a delayed hug too, saying “when you’re ready” which has worked too — maybe a compromise? I feel bad for the g-parents when they just want a cuddle too!

  5. I’d never really thought about this but it’s a great point and love you teaching him a polite way of saying no if he doesn’t want to, I shall adopt this when my little one is old enough! #wineandboobs

  6. I have a 2 year old who has refused hugs at times, and I also read a post about how it may be good to let them have some control over their body and what they do with it. I’m torn on this. There are times I think he’s just being a stink and typical 2 year old but other times I think he really doesn’t want a hug. I also want to make sure my child grows up to show affection for those he loves. I think there’s just a fine line with this. And LOL to the “No mommy I prefer not” in regards to cleaning up toys. 🙂

    1. Thanks Emily! I know what you mean about the dilemma of is he being a stubborn toddler or is it a genuine preference! I had a comment that suggested giving the option of high-fives instead of hugs and think it’s a great idea! THanks so much for reading!

  7. I am so about my personal space. I am not a big hugger person nor do I like to cuddle or be cuddled. But with my children if they come to me and want to be hugged or cuddled then of course I respond but I have noticed lately that they aren’t as needy of that kind of attention which I find to be a good thing…I don’t want needy children lol. I am visiting from #famjamlinky.

    1. I’m so glad you said that! I’m not a touchy-feely person either, so I could understand why sometimes they don’t want to be touched.But like you I just deal with the sticky fingers in my hair and sharp nails in the skin when they need some loving! THanks for reading!

  8. Such a great post. I’ve often wondered what to do or say when my little one’s refuse to give a hug and often we just make it worse by insisting they do. I believe they have their own right to not hug when they feel uncomfortable and maybe this is the best way of doing it. By teaching them to be polite whilst declining. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  9. haha your last sentence. I completely agree. I do not force hugs or kisses. Even with relatives or myself for that matter. I don’t even force her to “say hello” to anybody as she gets really shy in new situations. That may be good or bad but I was always forced to “say hello” when I was a kid and I absolutely hated it. I will say and do what I want to do! I will interact when I am ready and that’s how I want her to feel 🙂 Thanks for linking as always 🙂

  10. Ahh what a good post. I love to cuddle and hug, I’ve always been like that. I don’t force my son though, it’s only recently he’s got into hugging people and it really is all on his terms. I do love a mummy/son cuddle though they’re the best! Thanks for linking up to the #bestandworst hope you’ll pop by again! x

  11. Great article, I can see how we should start this early and you are doing a great job. Even now, 45 years older than your son, I hate it when I feel I am being forced to hug someone, it turns me off, makes me mad and stand offish. And I am an adult!!

  12. You sound like you are handling it better than I would. I never know if I am teaching them something right and then rethink it afterwards and think well I really didn’t make sense at all. lol It’s hard to tell them they can refuse one thing and not everything. B thinks if he says please for everything no matter what he should get it. Hard lesson in life to learn. lol Thanks for linking up to Share With Me #sharewithme

Leave a Reply