"Beta, you must give uncle/aunty a hug!" STOP!
When we grow up in a world where you hug your relative or family no matter what, denying someone a hug is considered a major sign of disrespect and often shame on the parents for not teaching their kid to be "well mannered." However, forcing your child to hug someone when they don't want to is harmful to them. Here's 4 reasons why. 1. It teaches them that they have no control over their own body
Learning about consent begins at an early age. If a kid doesn't learn that they have autonomy over their own body, how will they learn to respect someone else's bodily autonomy? In South Asian cultures, we communicate through touch, such as hugs and while hugs can be warm and positive and instill feelings of trust, goodwill and healthy relationships, any kind of touch should always always be consensual. You can still enthusiastically encourage your kid to hug their relatives, but if they say that they don't want to at the moment, respect it, because their body is theirs and they get to decide if they feel like a hug or not. Bonus tip! Verbalize this to your kid in front of your relatives who maybe hanging in hug limbo and impart some consent education all around!
2. It teaches them that relatives cannot be abusers
What happens when your child doesn't want to hug someone and you make them do it anyway? It teaches them that they can be hugged or touched by adults anytime the adults want, especially if these adults are family members. If this hug turns into abuse, their boundaries were already crossed when they were forced to give in to the hug, they may not realize that their boundaries are being violated further. Or if the forced hug also came after a reprimand about being disrespectful to elders, or not being polite, they may bear inappropriate behavior for fear of being reprimanded again.
3. It teaches them that consent can be manipulated
This is common scene from most desi childhoods, Mom: "Beta, you must give aunty a hug." Kid: " Noooo! I don't want to."
Aunty pretends to cry in an exaggerated gesture.
Mom: " See aunty is sad that you are not giving her a hug."
Kid feels guilt and gives in.
Through this interaction a kid learns two things: 1. that aunty's feelings are more important than my own and 2. that pretend crying is a good way to get what I want!
Sexual violence does not exist in a vacuum and neither does consent. Consent is learned and our early interactions play a big role in determining whether or not we internalize it. When we force kids out of their comfort zone through emotional manipulation we teach them that they can do the same to others.
4. You could be ignoring important subtle cues that your kid is trying to convey
Often times, a child not wanting to hug and adult could be an innocent thing, maybe person laughed to loudly and that jarred the kid, or they accidentally stepped on the kid's hand or they wore a scary costume at Halloween and the kid is scared of them. However, child abuse statistics show that a shocking 90% of alleged abusers were in some way related to the child victim, this means that victims of child abuse may often come face to face with their abusers in public/family situations. We're not saying that every time your child refuses to hug someone, they are being abused by that person but it could be a sign that something more is going now. By forcing them to hug their relatives you may be ignoring important cues that your child may be trying to convey.
So the next time your child refuses to hug a particular adult or several adults, privately and in a gentle manner ask them what's wrong. It could be nothing, but in case it is something, in the interest of your child's well being, it is better to know sooner than later.