If it feels weird to have to force your kid to hug their relatives, there's a reason.

It's your little inner voice saying, 'There is another way.'

Lots of parents know this scenario.

The in-laws get in after long travels for the holidays, and the first thing they want when they walk in the door are hugs and kisses from their darling grandbabies.

Super sweet.


Except when the kids aren't feeling like freely giving affection. What happens next?

"Please don't make me give hugs!" Image by Capture Queen/Flickr.

We parents sometimes cave to the societal pressure to show off a kid we know to be loving and affectionate, even when they aren't particularly in a mood to be those things.

Sometimes in the moment during family get-togethers, we pressure them to show physical affection when they just aren't up to it. If you've been there before and had that nagging feeling afterward, it's OK to learn from that and do it differently next time.

The whole hugging-relatives thing can seem complicated, but I'm going to break it down. First, with some reasons why forcing our kids to be that person is a bad idea. Second, with why we get confused for a moment and think it's a good idea. And third, with some middle-ground solutions that balance diplomacy with your child's feelings.

1. It's a bad idea to force snuggly-wugglies that aren't genuine because:

To begin with, the bond between you and your child has got to be first and foremost.

Whether it's trusting you enough to come tell you mistakes that they've made or knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are on their side if someone ever violates their trust, it's crucial for your kids to never doubt your allegiance. So when you force Isabelle to hug people who she's telling you she doesn't feel like hugging, it kind of sends a subtle but lasting message that you care more about being on Team Grandma or Team New Stranger than being on Team Isabelle.

Additionally, forcing kids to give physical affection they aren't feeling tells them to ignore their own feelings to appease others.

A certain amount of rising to the occasion is a good skill to learn, but not at the expense of physical comfort and psychological well-being. While YOU may know that Grandma is harmless, it's less about the actual inherent risk and more about the practice of teaching your children that their boundaries matter and will be recognized. A child who learns early on that their "no" means something is an empowered child. It's not going to turn them into a spoiled brat just because they get to decide who they want to demonstrate physical affection with. There are other ways to raise a balanced child than insisting they give up bodily autonomy.

Peter Saunders, chief executive of the U.K.-based National Association for People Abused in Childhood, reinforces this point in The Guardian:

"There are certain things we [should] make children do which is quite different. We make them brush their teeth, for example. That is quite different to forcing them to kiss an uncle they don't want to. It's about boundaries. And this blurring of boundaries [by forcing them to kiss someone they don't want to] can indeed blur their understanding of what is right and wrong, about their body belonging to them."

2. Why it seemed like a good idea at the time to push the kids to hug their family:

In the moment, when Granddad's feelings are hurt because his kiss got rejected, it can seem like a good idea to cajole your child into acquiescing.

We want the world to see our children in their best light, as we see them — the cuddly, adorable, and loving little creatures they can be. We want the world to see we've raised well-adjusted, outgoing, socially successful beings. We don't want family members to feel rejected or embarrassed. We don't want our kids thought of as brats. All of those feelings and competing objectives are real, but none of them trumps the facts that you are your child's teammate and they get to make the final call on what they do with their body. Those are still the most important things in such a situation.

It's always better when kids are giving hugs because they want to, anyway! Image by Brent Payne/Flickr.

3. It doesn't have to be a choice between making your kids hug people or letting them be rude.

There are plenty of other hug-diplomacy options in between.

  • Before big events and family functions, practice an age-appropriate alternate response with your child. Having a prepared talking point can be a lifesaver for a kid in an awkward position — you've just given them a tool for dealing with life AND you've cemented yourself unmistakably in their corner. You can teach 2-year-olds that it's OK to high-five instead of hug. You can teach 6-year-olds to say, "I've had a long day, let's just fist-bump." Teaching children not to be unkind is important, but it should always be their choice if they wish to go above the minimum kindness of acknowledgement. If they spontaneously decide they want to offer a hug, then great! But if not, they have a dignified "out" and the pressure is off.
  • You can prep family and friends before events if you talk to them. Let them know your little ragamuffin is not always up for hugs and kisses and not to take it personally if that's the case. It's not bad for adults to be reminded to be gracious and not put kids in uncomfortable situations, either.
  • Have a joke ready to ease the embarrassment if a situation gets fraught — as long as it doesn't make your child the punchline. "If we all were as cute and huggable as he is, we'd be running the other direction from everyone, too!"

The bottom line: Relax about it (which will help everyone else follow suit), and make sure your kid knows you have their back even as you work your role as chief manners-enforcer. If millions of parents did this, imagine the healthy boundary-setting skills of the next generation!

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Brian Olesen never imagined he would end up homeless.

The former U.S. Air Force medic had led a full and active life, complete with a long career in the medical field, a 20-year marriage, and a love of anything aquatic. But after hip surgery and chronic back pain left him disabled in 2013, he lost his ability to work. Due to changes in eligibility requirements, he couldn't qualify for federal veteran housing programs. His back issues were difficult to prove medically, so he didn't qualify for disability. Though he'd worked his whole life, having no income for five years took its toll. He got evicted from a couple of apartments and found himself living on the streets.

But in 2018, two things completely turned Olesen's life around. He was able to both qualify for disability and to move into an affordable housing community in Miami's Goulds neighborhood called Karis Village.

When people think of affordable housing, they don't usually picture a place like Karis Village. The 88-unit development is brand new, and built with an attention to design that is not always expected for developments that serve as home to people on limited incomes. The apartments have tile floors, marble countertops, and all new appliances and furniture, and the grounds are beautiful and well-kept, with a playground and common areas for residents to gather.

Brian Olesen in his kitchen at Karis VillageCapital One

Karis Village isn't just a housing development; it's a home and a community. Half of the units are set aside for veterans who have experienced homelessness, like Olesen. The other half are largely occupied by single-parent families.

"To me, this building was just a gift," says Olesen. "All of the different parties that got together to put this building together… making half the building available to veterans. We've got no place to go."

Addressing veteran homelessness was one of the goals of Karis Village, which was built through a partnership that included Carrfour Supportive Housing — a mission-driven, not-for-profit affordable housing organization in southern Florida — and Capital One's Community Finance team. More than just an affordable place to live, the community has full-time staff on hand to help coordinate services—from addiction recovery programs to transportation options to job search and placement. Also included are peer counselors who provide emotional and psychological support for residents.

Karis Village, an affordable housing community in Miami, Florida.Capital One

Carrfour President and CEO Stephanie Berman says the core function of the services team on site is to build a supportive community.

"Often when you think of folks leaving homelessness and coming into housing, you think of shelters or some kind of traditional housing," she says. "You don't really think about a community, and that's really what we build and what we operate. What we're really striving to create is community. We find that our families thrive when you create a sense of community."

The intention to create a supportive community at Karis Village was a priority from the get go. Fabian Ramirez, a Capital Officer on Capital One's Community Finance team, says the bank did a listening tour in southern Florida to explore community development and affordable housing options in the area and to hear what was most needed. After deciding to partner with Carrfour, the bank provided not only an $8 million construction loan and a $25 million low income housing tax credit (LIHTC) investment to help build Karis Village, but it also kicked in a $250,000 social purpose grant to help fund the social support services that would be put in place for residents.

"It's not just all about providing the brick and mortar," says Ramirez. "It's about being able to contribute to the sustainability of the development and of the lives of the people who move into the building."


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Olesen says he and his fellow residents benefit greatly from the network of support services offered in the building. He says a counselor comes to meet with him once a month, sometimes right in his apartment. He also gets help maintaining a connection with the Veteran Affairs office. Other services include social workers and counselors for drug addiction and alcoholism.

Olesen loves being around other veterans, and he says hearing the sound of children playing keeps the community lively. He says anywhere else he could afford to live on disability wouldn't be nearly as nice and would likely involve shared kitchens and bathrooms and neighborhoods you wouldn't want to go out in at night.

If it weren't for Karis Village, Olesen says he doesn't know where he would be today: "I had nowhere to go and this is a safe, beautiful place to spend my retirement."

"I don't think they could have done a much better job of putting this place together and supplying us with what we need," he says. "I have so much appreciation for the ability to have a place to live. And then you add to that that it's beautiful and completely furnished and you didn't need to bring anything—I don't know what more you could ask for."

Karis Village and another development for veterans built the same year enabled the neighborhood of Goulds to meet the requirements set forth by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to declare an end to veteran homelessness in the area.

Ending veteran homelessness altogether is a complex task, but communities like Karis Village show how it can be done—and done well. When government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporate funding programs come together to solve big problems, big solutions can be built and maintained.

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