Dr Richard C. Woolfson
Until now, your child has loved being hugged or cuddled by you. She blossomed with these shows of affection, regardless of whether you were at home or in a crowded street, as these demonstrations of your love were so important to her that she accepted them at any time and place.
Suddenly, this changes. At some point as she approaches the tween years, she announces: “Mum, don’t kiss me when we are in front of other people.” However, don’t take it personally – this is just a sign that she’s growing up.
PART OF GROWING UP
Her rejection of your public displays of affection stems from her desire to be treated like an older child. In the eyes of your nine-year-old, public cuddles are intended for young children and babies, and not for kids her own age. If you inadvertently try to give her a kiss in front of her friends, she would cringe with embarrassment.
This change in her behaviour is not a sign that her love for you has diminished. In fact, she needs you more than ever to guide her through the trials and tribulations of growing up, to advise her on coping with friendships, to develop her identity and self-esteem, and to point her in the right direction with her school work. So, don’t confuse her rejection of public affection with her rejection of you – the two are totally unconnected.
Bear in mind that she still wants you to hold her hand in the waiting room of the dentist’s surgery, and to put your arm around her after she trips in the street and cuts her knee. In these circumstances, her resistance to public displays of affection disappears completely!
WHAT TO DO
Take your child’s comments seriously. If she tells you directly that she would prefer you not to give her a goodbye kiss in front of her friends or a reassuring hug when you drop her off at school in the morning, respect her wishes. Like it or not, she is old enough to make this sort of decision. Don’t make fun of her by telling her she is behaving like a baby – that would only strain your relationship. It is far better to treat her maturely, to let her see that you are willing to listen to her, and to show her that you take her feelings seriously.
Now that she has explained her embarrassment about those hugs in public, talk to her about how she would like you to say goodbye and greet each other. Your child probably hasn’t thought about that yet. Perhaps she would prefer you just to say goodbye warmly to her, or maybe she wouldn’t mind if you simply touch her lightly on the shoulder. Work out a way of meeting, greeting and parting that suits both of you. This would help to avoid any misunderstanding.
Once you have been operating this new system for a few weeks, check if it is working. Ask your child if she is more comfortable and less embarrassed now that you have stopped hugging and kissing her in public. Her positive reply and beaming smile will let you know that you have got it right, and your relationship will become stronger than ever.
After a couple of years – maybe sooner – your child will eventually realise that there is nothing to be embarrassed about giving Mum or Dad a cuddle in public, and she’ll probably feel silly that she made such a fuss about it in the first place.