How do I get my elderly aunt to stop kissing my children?
Dear Stop It Now!,
My aunt insists on kissing my children (ages 7 and 8) all over their face whenever she sees them. She pulls them in close, hugs them hard and just smothers them in kisses. They hate it. She ignores their pleas to stop and even when they say no, she just kisses them harder. I hate to make her feel bad; I know she just wants to express her love but I don’t want my children to put up with being kissed if they don’t want to be.*
Dear Concerned Parent,
It’s incredibly important for children to feel that when they state they don’t want to be touched by someone, that wish is honored. This helps children feel safe and know that adults are working to actively prevent them from uncomfortable and perhaps unsafe situations. It helps them feel that when they say “no” to touching that makes them uncomfortable, people will listen.
Teaching the aunts (and uncles, grandparents, other relatives) in our family how to love our children while respecting the children's personal boundaries is sometimes difficult, isn’t it? Sometimes there are family expectations about how children should show respect to adults; but a child's saying "no" to touches that make them uncomfortable should not be considered disrespectful. Your children have told your aunt how they feel, and it is a good thing that they felt comfortable enough to express these feelings. Now the adults need to help the children feel safe.
Although this may be a sensitive topic, it's important to speak to your aunt. Remind her that teaching the children that they can say no to unwanted touching is an important lesson that could help them if they are ever approached by someone who wants more than affection from them. Perhaps your discussion with her can include thinking of other ways she can show her affection for your children, feel respected and help the children know that they are safe.
So, what if after this conversation, your aunt still insists on kissing your children? The bottom line is that she does need to stop kissing your children if they don’t want to be kissed. If she continues to insist on kissing them despite their requests not to be kissed, you will have to step in and ask her to stop in the moment. You may be able to offer her another way to share affection with your children, such as hugs, high fives, cute little sayings, etc.
Your children will benefit from watching you stand up for their boundaries and needs. And yes, your aunt may feel put off, but again, reminding her that you are committed to your children’s safety may help her understand.
Overall, it is important for every family to establish rules about personal boundaries for all family members. Our tipsheet, Everyday Actions to Keep Kids Safe will help you think about about family boundaries and offer other suggestions to help keep children safe. Perhaps you could share this with your aunt to help her understand that your actions are all about keeping your children (and her nieces) safe.
To complement the everyday actions tip sheet, I also want you to take a look at how to Create your family safety plan. It also talks about boundaries between family members, and will help you think about how safety is established and maintained in your family.
I wish you luck. I know family relationships are difficult and issues like these, while frequent, are never comfortable. As a final support, I’d like to share this book list to educate adults about preventing child sexual abuse from The Child Molestation Research and Prevention Institute.
Good luck with your aunt. Your children will thank you for your caring efforts to get her stop her behavior.
Stop It Now!
Last edited on: January 3rd, 2012