Getting Real with Kira Hazledine

Many will be sitting down for a Thanksgiving meal tomorrow, and whether you’re excited to hang out with extended family is a whole different conversation. What’s important right now is your child. They aren’t privy to the social niceties that encourage us not to call out our racist grandparents (even though we should.) We know not to mention our unstable aunt’s new boyfriend or inform our brother-in-law that he’s gone a bit heavy on the cologne. Kids are wonderful in their innocence, saying what everyone is thinking, but we forget that sometimes they don’t want to say anything at all.

Let’s be honest. How many family members are complete strangers to your child? Just because you know who they are doesn’t mean crap to small humans. Yet here they are, in your child’s living space, demanding a kiss and hug. Might as well be the creepy old guy at the grocery store asking if your child wants some candy. To your kids, the same alarm bells that you’ve desperately tried to instill (hello, stranger danger) are ringing.

Blood ties don’t take the stranger factor out of the equation.

Family or not, these people are strangers to your child. If they’ve met, it’s been a handful of times at best. Your child is probably more familiar with the girl running the check-out lane at the local grocery store. Family doesn’t guarantee any type of bond or familiarity. Introductions are nice, and a step in the right direction, but anything beyond that is just asking too much of our children.

Consent is mandatory.

Your great-aunt from out of town doesn’t automatically get hugs and kisses. My own grandparents are lucky if my child will be in the same room. The last time they were over at our home, my daughter hid in her room until they left. Even when I suggested she say a basic “hello,” my toddler was in hysterical tears. So you know what I did? I stopped.

Full. Stop.

I let my toddler know where I was and that she was more than welcome in the other room with me at any time. I also let me toddler know that if she wanted to hang out in her room and play or watch a movie, that was also completely acceptable. These were my grandparents, but to my toddler, they were also strangers. My toddler owed them nothing.

And let’s muse for a second that my toddler knows and adores my grandparents. If she still wants to sit in her room and not engage, fine. In that situation, I would probably encourage a polite hello out of courtesy, but that’s it. No hugs or kisses necessary, because even among family, consent is mandatory.

Strangers or not, consent is mandatory.

If your child feels like giving everyone in the neighborhood a big hug, fantastic, but the choice is theirs. Teach them early that their body is their own, and the holiday season is the perfect time to get that train rolling. If someone gets offended, that’s their problem, not yours. Your child deserves to feel safe and comfortable, and if you aren’t thrilled with the idea of greeting someone at the holidays, guess what? Neither is your kid.