Stop Asking My Daughter To Give You A Kiss

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‘Give us a kiss,’ said the man serving me coffee.

He wasn’t talking to me, but it was just as — if not more — inappropriate. Rather, he was talking to my daughter Violet.

It’s not the first time. In the last two months, two other relative strangers — a neighbour and an old family friend at a wedding — have bent down to my four year old’s level, tapped their cheek in expectation and demanded a kiss from her.

On each occasion I’ve wanted to scream, ‘Don’t ask my daughter to kiss you, it’s creepy!’ I remember being presented with cheeks when I was a kid and feeling the discomfort of such forced intimacy.

But despite my own bad experiences from childhood, I didn’t intervene on Violet’s behalf. I stood there silently and watched as she hesitated, flinched and then obliged.

I’m quite sure that all three of the kiss demanders — one woman and two men — were good people. They weren’t being predatory, and I didn’t want to offend them or cause a scene.

I was being the people-pleasing good girl that I’m trying – obviously not very successfully – to teach Violet not to be. I prioritised social harmony and appeasing relative strangers over the wishes of my daughter.

But I won’t do it again.

The reason is that a kiss isn’t just a kiss, no matter how innocent and innocuous the intent might be. The ritual of demanding affection from children on cue is one of those tiny, everyday little lessons in which we teach children — especially girls — that they are to tailor their emotional responses to please others.

This is despite the fact that we go to great lengths to tell children that they are in charge of their bodies. But if their bodies are truly their own, then they also need to learn that they’re in charge of their instincts and desires. If a child doesn’t want to kiss a relative stranger — and let’s face it, why would they? — then they shouldn’t have to.

I want Violet to know that her intimacy and affection is always under her control and she should never feel obliged to give it away for somebody else’s benefit if she doesn’t want to. She shouldn’t have to provide affection on cue just because social rituals demand it.

By remaining silent and acquiescing to strangers’ desires for Violet’s affection, I effectively told my daughter that ‘It’s ok to say no’ — except when it isn’t.

This message is too subtle for a four year old to grasp. It can only be understood in absolutes. Which means that Violet needs to know that if she doesn’t want to kiss somebody then she shouldn’t. She also needs to understand that I will always back her unequivocally, no matter how embarrassing this will be to me, or the person asking for a kiss.

A couple of friends who also find it creepy when people demand kisses from their kids, navigate the social awkwardness by suggesting that their child gives the kiss-requester a high-five or a handshake instead.

These options give children more choices about how they respond to friendly advances. Children are introduced in to the world of civil graces, recognising and acknowledging others, while also putting in place boundaries.

That’s fine for genuinely friendly approaches, but we still need to make clear to our children that if they ever feel uncomfortable, and feel that they’re being pressured to oblige, then they have the right to say no — even if it causes offence.

Personal boundaries are taught — and they should be taught — early and consistently. At the risk of going all Presidential on you, the next time someone asks for a kiss from my daughter, I’m going to use it as a ‘teachable moment’.  It’s an opportunity to reinforce the message — both in practice as well as in theory — that the only person who decides who she kisses is her.

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5 thoughts on “Stop Asking My Daughter To Give You A Kiss

  1. BRAVO!!! My daughter had a birth defect and spent the first 11 months of her life in NICU at Kosair Childrens Hospital in Louisville, KY. When she left the hospital she was being fed through a tube in her stomach that was attached to pump we carried in a backpack every where we went. Despite the fact that she LOOKED sick for several weeks upon release perfect strangers would walk right up to the stroller and start reaching in to touch her! With comments like “she still beautiful” and “its ok pretty girl” they would reach in to grab her hand or stroke her cheek. After 11 MONTHS of 3 minute hand washing and masks these (often elderly ) people were expecting to rub all over her as if she were a side show exhibit. I stopped everyone. They were all offended as if I should feel grateful that they wanted to touch my sickly child ! I realized what you have. They are acting in a way that is no longer socially acceptable. EVERYONE has the right to have physical boundaries no matter what the reason. And by submitting for our children to make someone else happy we are failing them. THANK YOU!!!! By the way, shes happy and healthy and about to be a beautiful 17 yr old.

  2. Thanks for sharing how you feel. It’s real nice that you have an opinion. What I don’t understand is that the way it is written seems to indicate the rest of society is guilty of not writing about this first and that you are enlightening us all with your random feelings. You say you ‘didn’t intervene on Violet’s behalf. I stood there silently and watched as she hesitated, flinched and then obliged.’, but then say they ‘have the right to say no — even if it causes offence’.

    So why don’t you just say so when it happens instead of telling the world about it?

    You are to blame here – no one else. Have an opinion and stick with it. No one will get offended. Don’t change your mind afterwards then whinge.

  3. I hate the way people encroach on children’s space. It is quite inappropriate to ask a child to kiss you, and I don’t think a parent should have a bar of it. There are so many ways you can intervene from ‘I don’t allow her to do that’, ‘Please wait while I ask her in private if she wants to do that’, ‘Would you ask an adult you didn’t know for a kiss?’ or just ‘I’m sorry, that is quite inappropriate’. Asking a child to kiss you is as intrusive as groping a woman’s pregnant belly. And just as creepy.

  4. When did we all become so afraid of other humans? Is it not possible that this fear you carry inside yourself is the energy that you give off to your child? Calm the fuck down and fear less. It might just make you a happier person.

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