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« Holiday Gauntlet 3: Gift issues | Main | Holiday Gauntlet Ha!: The kid who licked the pole on A Christmas Story »



I think you're taking too harsh a stand on the kiss from Grandma.

I'm not a hugger or a kisser myself, never have been, so I know where you are coming from. But kisses and hugs from relatives are not violations, and teaching a child that they are if they decide they are is not a good idea.

Unless a kid is genuinely being violated somewhere in his life, he or she will know the difference between a kiss or hug from a relative and from someone he doesn't know and who approaches him when his mom or dad is not around.

I think it would be better to coach the kid ahead of time on what to expect and how to give and receive a kiss or hug from a relative. They might never enjoy it (I'm still not into it) but otherwise you're making a small issue (your child's temporary discomfort with a new situation) into a huge issue where feelings will be hurt and he or she might be more confused about when kisses and hugs are appropriate or not.


added: obviously occasionally an overzealous or genuinely sleazy relative will violate boundaries, of course one would take action in that instance, I'm talking about standard kisses and hugs that don't go too far.


Nancy, what I said was that you can't let your mom kiss your daughter "if it scares your daughter."

You'd really force your kid (and I'm talking about toddlers and preschoolers, because their parents are the main audience of Ask Moxie) to do something that scared her because it was not a violation to an adult?

I agree that for older kids, "You know how Aunt Ethel likes to kiss you, so just do it quickly and then you can leave" is the best way to handle it. But I just can't see forcing a toddler to submit to something that genuinely scares them. What's the difference between that and leaving your kid in a room with a scary barking dog?

wood from sweetjuniper

Wonderful tips, Moxie. My stepmother is coming into town to stay with us this weekend, and since she's the relative who stresses me out the most with my daughter, this is perfect timing. Wish us luck.



Having been forced to kiss grandma when it just skeeved me out, I'll comment on the comment...

1) Being forced to unearned intimacies damaged the respect for the other party. Instead of deciding that grandma really loved me and wanted me to show I loved her, I decided that grandma was disgusting (we made up gross nicknames to call her behind her back) and scary, and I avoided her at every possible opportunity. Until she stopped making me kiss her. :shudder:

2) The people most likely to physically violate a child are family. I was taught that family was entitled to make me feel bad because it made them feel good. So I did not tell my mom when my great uncle (who was permitted to pick me up and carry me about even though is petrified me) raped me. He was entitled. I could not expect to be defended from him. I was seven, and he'd been allowed to kiss/hug/pick-me-up since I was a baby. I'd learned the rules. He was never considered a danger, wasn't prone to inappropriate behavior, looks, touching, etc.

Do I suggest you see all your relatives as possible abusers? Absolutely not. My grandma, liver lips notwithstanding, was a wonderful human being. What I suggest is that true connections are more important than the surface behaviors, and true connections and love come from respect and communication, in both directions. If I'd expected respect and communication, expected to be listened to and to have my boundaries regarded as sacrosanct, I'd never have permitted the situation that occurred. Teaching that the child's feelings are real, are hers/his, and are relevant, AND that there are ways to communicate 'I know you are family' without violating that, that's win-win.

So I'm with Moxie here. Listen to what your child needs. Heck, coach the adults to apply respect and boundaries as a 'trick' to get the kids to love them faster. I worshipped one of my cousins, followed her around, wanted to hold her hand all the time, sat on her lap when she sat down. All because when someone said 'go kiss your cousin hello!' she replied immediately, 'No, she doesn't have to if she doesn't want to.' I still didn't want to kiss her, but BOY did I want to hug her!

Rosemary Grace

Moxie, I can't thank you enough for emphasizing allowing kids to develop their own personal boundaries. I have very loving, supportive parents, and a mother who viewed my body as a complete extension of hers, I did not get the option to just not feel like being hugged, patted on the head, kissed etc etc etc. She used to chase me around the kitchen demanding a kiss, I'm sure she thought it was a game, but I was actually horrified and just did not want to be touched at all. This led directly to me being sexually taken advantage of when I was 16. No personal boundaries = TROUBLE.

Nancy, if you let a little kid avoid kissing Grandma a few times, it's highly unlikely they'll keep a permanent aversion to Granny. Moxie wasn't advocating agreeing and saying "yes granny does smell funny, she's scary!", the idea is to avoid making a power struggle with the child over the child's own body. If a child learns very young that you have to stand still and let Auntie Mabel smooch you, and keep quiet while Uncle Tom hugs you, what might that child do when an adult in authority touches them inappropriately?

Granny is a grownup, she can deal with momentary rejection. Most kids probably wouldn't end up with the level of issues I had, but isn't it better to risk a grownup being momentarily hurt than a child taking 26 years and counselling to figure out that it's totally ok to require that a friend stop slapping you on the ass?


Oh man. I have a five month old son, and we're lucky enough that he really loves being sitting with various people.

However, last night, my partner took the baby to his office Christmas Party (no, not that kind of party -- it was held at a private home with lots of families and a gift swap), and some random woman stuck a fingerful of Chocolate Whipped Cream into our son's mouth! Even setting aside the inapropriateness of putting your germy finger into a baby's mouth (I've actually gotten used to people trying to do that, weirdly), why on EARTH do people think its ok to randomly stuff food into a baby's mouth?

If you wouldn't do it to an adult, you shouldn't do it to a child. That's the rule I've always tried to use with my friends children - now we'll see if I can enforce it with my own.

Rosemary Grace

Oh, and Hedra's right on the money with the way to get little relatives to heap you with love: don't chase 'em.

I just met my 3.5 yr old twin niece and nephew, and I waved at 'em, and was careful not to instigate "come on, just a hug" situations. I became the new favourite climbing frame and piggy-back giver, and got a spontenous kiss from the boy, which was worth twelve million mommy-forced "kiss your auntie" kisses. My cousin's 4 year old daughter chose my lap for a nap 2 hours after we met, my mother looked on in amazement after having chased the girl about wanting love. Kids are beautiful and delicious to hug, it's hard to resist pawing at them, but you get MORE love by standing back just a little and letting them come to you.


I'd love to hear more about the food sensitivity issue. This is my first holiday with my food sensitve toddler. Especially dealing with family who say things like must you scare us with stories of his allergys and how to use an epi [email protected][email protected][email protected][email protected][email protected][email protected] My other favorite is why nurse him if you have to avoid the things he is allergic to. Then there is my husbands family who insist on putting cheese on everything including the salad so that I have to bring a meal with us for the kid and then they get offended. I just wait till I get home to eat. GRRRR

Any insights people would be MUCH appreciated.


I ask for a hug and a kiss when I come home from work, but if I don't get it I don't push it.

I've also asked my son if he will kiss his aunts or grandparents bye-bye, but again I don't push it if he doesn't want to do it. There have been times when I've just said, "Can you say goodbye to x" and he spontaneously kisses x, which is sweet.

I definitely don't think that teaching and showing affection is a bad thing, but I don't want my son to feel uncomfortable or forced into it. I've actually caught my mother-in-law LICKING my son's face (along the "I could just eat you up" lines), which didn't seem to faze him, but certainly grossed me right out. Many of my family members, myself included, will just grab my son and kiss him and hug him without asking first. I don't want to spend my holidays policing every affectionate gesture from my relatives, but if he seems uncomfortable or scared I'll help him handle it.


I have very strong memories of arriving at Grandma's near bedtime and being whisked upstairs into PJ's in an unfamiliar house, then asked to go around the room and give everyone a goodnight kiss. **I did not like it.** I needed an hour of interaction with those strange uncles with beards before I was ready to play rough, tickle or give kisses. By the time we left I probably smothered them with love, but I needed my time and they didn't give it to me.


I just wanted to add to the discusion that allowing a child to follow his or her gut instincts about people (within some polite boundaries) is very important. _Protecting the Gift_ which is a very non-sensational book on working to prevent abuse is very clear about this. I highly recommend it and his adult book _The Gift of Fear_.

If you teach your kids to ignore their own warning signals you are increasing their vulnerability in the world not only from sexual abuse but from sizing up people & situations which may be threatening in other ways.

It's really not about making them think a kiss is abusive, but giving them the space to make the decision about physical affection based on their preferences. And really, why shouldn't kids be allowed to have a day or a person they don't want to kiss or hug? They don't have to be rude about it. Older kids can learn to say politely, "thank you very much but I don't want to be kissed right now."


I'm totally with you on the joke thing. We have a grandparent whose MO is GUILT. He has been this way forever and I see him doing it to everyone, so I try not to take offense. But when he comes at us with "We hardly ever see you!" and "Your kids don't even know us because you never visit" and other statements like that, I just laugh and say, "Oh Grandpa, you see us all the time!" like it's hilarious. He is too polite to disagree with me (passive-aggressiveness meets its downfall!) so we move on to other topics. It's great.

As for forced touching with toddlers: NO. Absolutely not. We give choices: Do you want to hug Grandma or blow kisses? Do you want Grandpa to tickle you or play catch? The relatives get the affection from our kids that they crave, but our kids are not uncomfortable. I even give my kids the choice with MY affection: Can I have a hug? Can I kiss your cheek? If I forget to ask, L will say to me: No, it's MY cheek! Don't kiss it!


I have an extremely food-allergic child who is still of an age to put everything in her mouth.

We have decided that, even for holidays, we will not allow people to bring food containing her allergens into our home. I check ingredients at the door, and if it's something that will give her a reaction if she gets a crumb, the offending food immediately goes back out to the person's car or into our refrigerator without being opened.

At other locations, I pretty much just bring our own food and warn everyone not to feed my child ANYTHING without checking with me first. Yes, I have had announcements made to this effect at large gatherings.

I have allergy alert bracelets for her and I designed a tee-shirt that says "Caution: Severe food allergies. Please do not feed the baby."

I do also use the epi-pen as an educational tool. I don't necessarily teach people how to use it unless they're going to be caring for Baby E, but I definitely make a general announcement along the lines of, "The epi-pen is in this pocket of this bag." My thought is that if Baby E were in respiratory distress and needed the epi fast, the more people who know where it is the better.

I also made up a three-ring binder with allergy information in it for Baby E. It has her picture on the front with large red letters saying "Important: Emergency allergy information for [her full name]."

On the first page inside I have her photo again, her name and birthdate, a list of her allergens, and the names and contact information for us and her doctor. Since she is highly allergic to soy and corn I also have in large print circled in red, "No dextrose IV injection" and "no propofol sedative" since those are things commonly given by emergency personnel.

On the second page I have a printout of symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction with the symtpoms highlighted that mean immediate use of the epi/benadryl and a trip to the ER.

I also keep in that notebook copies of the package inserts for dextrose IV and propofol with the parts circled saying that they can be contraindicated for corn-allergic and soy-allergic patients. I've already been in several arguments with medical personnel about this, and it really helps to have the actual package insert to pull out and show them.

Other items in the notebook include lists of ingredients that can be hidden corn and soy ingredients, copies of test results and records, etc. I take this notebook everywhere she goes, and it's invaluable at doctor's appointments, for babysitters, etc.

It has the added benefit that, since I leave it in plain sight, the visual of her photo and the words "emergency allergy information" helps to drive home the seriousness of her allergies to anyone in the room.

We really need to get her a permanent medicalert type bracelet. For now we're using a colorful bracelet from food-allergy-gear--a seller on eBay who is a part of one of the allergy support groups I take part in online.


Oh, I forgot to say that with the food allergies I have a built-in excuse to ask people not to kiss my child, and to wash their hands before touching her. :)


With Brendan, re: foods, he doesn't have the social impact-worthy severe allergy reactions. He has sensitivities and intolerances. Nice and squishy, much harder to push.

So far, family has been really careful, treating his intolerances like serious (though not life-threatening) issues. Both sides. One mistake will not injure him dramatically (though it may make him impossible to be around - the fructose malabsorption really kicks off some nasty behaviors!), but they're still trying not to make ANY.

For the 'why do you have to scare us with the evil bad stories' folks, you could try a few things:

1) Be brutally honest about your feelings. I do not feel that you will protect him from harm. I have to push this information at you because I am afraid that you will not bother to pay attention otherwise. I feel that you disregard his safety and health as if they are not as important as 'having fun' in whatever way you have decided is best for him.

2) Be willing to walk out. At any time, with no notice and no giving in and going back because they promise to be better (at least not that day). Check into a hotel if you have to.

3) Any time anyone starts playing the old 'but we want him to grow up normal' or 'you're just making this up' or 'it really can't be as bad as you say' records, just stand up and walk away. Just standing up alone (excuse yourself to the bathroom, perhaps) will tend to make them uncomfortable, and over time they start feeling uncomfortable with the topic/attitude and don't know why. Sneaky trick of my mom's.

4) Doctor's note. Really. People who are like this often will listen to the doctor, when they won't listen to the mom/dad. So ask the doctor to write you a note explaining that the child may not have any of these foods, or traces of those foods, etc.

Good luck. I feel very lucky to have responsive family on this. They've all been following along with the attempt to find out what's up with Brendan's growth/GI function, so they're a bit more in tune than some, I guess.


I will have to be more careful about hugging or kissing kids who don't want to be hugged or kissed. I usually ask, "Can I have a hug?" or "Can I have a kiss?" and I don't think I've ever grabbed a kid who has said no, but I may have hugged a delightful, squishy kid sometimes without asking first.

Is it okay to hug or kiss babies who are pre-verbal? Obviously, if the kid was crying or looked unhappy, I would hand them back to their parent(s), but when does permission-asking start?

I never really thought about it before, since I was rarely hugged or kissed as a child by my parents, and I always wanted more physical affection. (I was hugged and kissed by grandparents, and liked it except when one grandfather rubbed his scratchy face on my face. Blech!)


I spent a lot of time being jumpy and uncomfortable when I visited America because gosh, you people hug a lot. People in my workplace would try to hug me, people I'd just met would try to hug me, people I barely knew would try to hug me all the freakin time! Sidestepping or avoiding the impending embrace was socially perilous but suffering through it made my skin crawl (I'm really, really not into being hugged by people I'm not close to, can you tell?).
I'm not sure if it's a cultural difference between Australia or America, or if my family and friends just aren't prolific huggers- I remember my parents farewelling me at the airport as one of the only times in my 20's either of them have hugged me.

I have never and would never attempt to hug or kiss a young child who didn't initiate it. Holding a baby doesn't so much count, in my opinion, because I could be doing that to give their mum some time to eat using both hands or go to the bathroom, and it doesn't follow that I'd try to stick my fingers in it's mouth (ew!). Of course, if the baby freaks out in my arms, I hand it right back.


I try to remember to ask. I ask, "Can I give you a hug?" Then I add, "It's okay if you say no." Hmm, as I type that, I realize I ask whether I can give the hug; perhaps that in itself is less intrusive than asking that I be given a hug. In any event, the answer is usually yes; if it isn't, the child feels respected and my affection has still been expressed. Hmm, I think the hug is usually to make *me* feel good.

A child once refused a parent's request to say hello to me. The parent explained in front of me to the child that if the parent had demanded that the child come kiss me hello, then the child would have had every right to refuse, but that the child was expected to comply with the request to greet me verbally and refusing to do so was plain rude and not acceptable. That impressed me.


Beth, good point on asking if *you* can hug *them*. They don't even have to hug you back, if they agree. That's really cool. I'm going to try to remember that phrasing.

Minimally appropriate social behavior is also useful. Proper greeting is taught at our kids' preschool as a social grace. Acknowledging the speaker is a politeness, and not usually an unearned intimacy.

Anon, the permission asking starts, for us, at birth. That's just to establish the habit. The value of it for them probably starts around 7 months old, when the first 'separation anxiety' phase really hits, and they become aware that they are separate beings from Mommy/Daddy, and that those other people are not also extensions of Mommy/Daddy.

Most kids are resilient enough to bounce back if someone steps over the line occasionally. It is the instituionalized requirement that becomes a bad lesson, IME. Most parents are pretty aware if their child is NOT 'most kids', so you can usually cue off the parents reactions, too.


Hi Lisa, Glad you found my blog!You have been pretty quiet here for awhlie. I enjoy the pictures, and your very obvious joy at being a Mother!I hope you keep blogging, boy I sure wish I had this wonderful tool when my girls were little. There is so much about them that I have forgotten. Sure I wrote in their baby books, but I wish I had kept a journal. I guess what I am trying to convey, is write it down someplace..so that in years to come you can remember!Thats pretty much what my blog is about, remembering..I want to leave some of my stories behind for my girls and my grandkids.Oh yes, I totally agree everyday should be a hug day!:)

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  • My expertise is in helping people be who they want to be, with a specialty in how being a parent fits into everything else. I like people. I like parents. I think you're doing a fantastic job. The nitty-gritty of what you do with your kids is up to you, although I'm happy to post questions here to get data points of how you could try approaching different stages, because, let's face it, this shit is hard. As for me, I have two kids who sleep through the night and can tie their own shoes. I've been a married SAHM, a married freelance WAHM, a divorcing WOHM, a divorced WOHM, and now a WAHM again. I'm not buying the Mommy Wars and I'll come sit next to you no matter how you're feeding your kid. When in doubt, follow the money trail. And don't believe the hype.
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