A Toddler’s Choice to Hug or Not to Hug

By Amy Dickinson | November 4th, 2022

‘What’s wrong with parents these days?’

a young boy concentrating as he is playing learning game. Monkey business Images. An uncle is upset that his nephew toddler chooses not to hug him – and especially that the parents won’t force it. See what advice columnist Amy Dickinson says in this installment of “Ask Amy.”

An uncle is upset that his nephew toddler chooses not to hug him – and especially that the parents won’t force it. See what advice columnist Amy Dickinson says in this installment of “Ask Amy.”

Dear Amy:

I’m hoping you can shed some light on this subject.

Is there any justification or logical reasoning behind some of these new parenting trends, specifically one that grants basically full autonomy to a toddler to make his or her own decisions?

One that is particularly irksome is letting said toddler choose whether or not they want to hug an immediate family member.

I’m not referring to distant cousins or relatives that are never seen or have only met once. I’m not talking about complete strangers (which of course I would never expect anyone to automatically consent to physical contact), but more like a grandparent or aunt/uncle who are very present in the child’s life!

On two recent occasions, I – a very close uncle – was denied a hug. This was the choice of the 3-year-old. This choice was reinforced by the parent.

I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t hurtful.

I can’t ever recall a time when I didn’t want to hug or kiss a close family member growing up, and as I got older, it meant even more as we gained the wisdom of how precious life is.

These days, I’m not much for human interaction/contact given the current social climate, but for the five to 10 seconds a hug lasts with the nephew, all the problems in the world seem to go away.

How will this type of upbringing affect young children as they get older?

J in NY

Dear J:

If you had focused on other choices toddlers might make – such as deciding when their own bedtime is, or deciding to pull the cat’s tail – I’d be in complete agreement with you.

You’ve focused on one issue – physical contact – where in my opinion it is not only OK for a toddler to make their own choice, but it is vital that they make their own choice.

Two points: An uncle is not “an immediate family member.” Also: A 10-second hug is forever.

You might have happy memories of sharing hugs with elder relatives, but many young children (myself included) were extremely uncomfortable being forced to hug someone – even a family member.

Every person is different; children have different temperaments, and some simply take longer to adjust to various social situations.

It would help you to understand with compassion that your 3-year-old family member has spent the entirety of his little lifetime growing up during a global pandemic, watching people avoid hugs, keep their distance, and oftentimes wear masks. It is not only natural but appropriate that a young child would be wary or unsure about when it’s OK to hug.

Furthermore, every child’s bodily autonomy should be respected.

And – even though you seem to want to receive affection more than offer it – you should be mature enough to find another way to convey affection for this child. Getting down on his level, establishing eye contact, and offering a high-five or a fist bump might be a good start.

Want to get even more life tips from Amy? Read more of her advice columns here!

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart – ranging from relationships, to a toddler who chooses not to hug, to DNA surprises. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

© 2022 by Amy Dickinson

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