Written by Doctor G

Don’t Kiss Me!

I have a 9 year old son, who is a great kid, smart, responsible, good with his younger brothers. Up until recently he has been very affectionate – he liked to give hugs and would kiss us goodbye. Just recently he has started to pull away and it’s kind of concerning. I don’t think he’s trying to be disrespectful or anything. But I go to kiss him goodnight and he says “No thanks.” I don’t want to make him do things that are uncomfortable – I kind of remember from my childhood not being very physically affectionate with my parents, but I still want to be able to kiss him goodnight and tell him I love him. So I’m hoping you have some suggestions.

Ralph, in Las Vegas, NV

A: The short answer is, you’re both right.
Your son is right to let you know what makes him uncomfortable. It is entirely normal for a nine year old guy to want to change his interactions with his parents, especially his physical relationship. His body is changing, his ideas about how to use his body and what it is for are changing, his comfort level with touching is changing, and his views about how he wants his parents to treat him are changing! It’s the beginning of puberty – welcome!

And you’re right: he needs to see and feel your love as much as he ever did when he was little.

You mention that he isn’t being disrespectful. It’s terrific that he isn’t, and even better that you noticed. How easy it is to take our children’s rejection of displays of affection as rejection of us and the family unit. Especially since these behaviors usually crop up at the same time that kids are starting to want to spend time with friends more and us less.

I want to mention that it’s not only nine year olds who feel weird about this. Some children (boys AND girls) are just more private. And some are less comfortable with touching than others. True of adults, too, right?

You have a great opportunity here, to show him respect and still give him the love he needs. Model respect by respecting your son’s boundaries. But don’t stop showing him affection! Talk to him. Tell him you love him too much to stop showing it, but you don’t want him to be uncomfortable. Ask him to help you find a solution. You guys need a secret phrase that means “I love you.” And a secret signal that can replace the hug or kiss when he prefers.

My husband and sons have a code. “Go Steelers!” means “I love you.” And they have this complicated fist-bump-hand-fireworks ritual thing that serves as a hug or kiss when anyone else is around. Or just when one of the kids prefers it. I’ve noticed that, since he gives them a choice, the older boys do hug and kiss a little more than they used to. Like most people, they like having the choice and the autonomy to make that choice without guilt.

There is good news here. Most kids go through this developmental phase – and it can be a long one! But most of them, especially when we respect their boundaries, come back to being physically affectionate later.

Kids need strong dads! An important part of being a strong dad is showing your kids that, whether they want it or not, your love and support is a fact. Your son is a lucky guy.

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6 thoughts on “Don’t Kiss Me!”

  1. Okay, I understand everything you wrote, but how do I best interpret the five year old turning away, giving me the cold shoulder frequently. Does it have anything to do with me being a bit more of a disciplinarian than Grandma? When we are all together, your boys tend to make up for it by running to me for a hug and kiss. So overall I cna’t complain. Life is good in my sphere.

  2. Papa Joe,
    This sounds more like an autonomy issue than a love thing. Especially since I know and love the five year old (my nephew-ish for anyone wondering), I can say for sure that his face lights up at any mention of you. I can also say for sure that he likes to be the boss of himself and will take any opportunity to assert his own decision-making whenever he can get away with it.

    If you want more hugs, tell him he better not hug you, cause he might not be strong enough and you might crush him by accident. Nod understandingly, “It’s better not to hug Papa, you might get hurt. Maybe when you’re bigger…” Bet it works.

  3. Hi, from Chasing Joy #FlashbackFriday. A very insightful response. My daughters are both young and they love affection which can sometimes feel over powering as I wasn’t brought up with a lot myself, although I knew my parents loved me. At the same time I don’t look forward to the day when they’re too old for the hugs and kisses, so watch this space as I may be calling on you for advice 🙂

    Fitnessbuster supporting you in improving your fitness and nutrition.

    1. Thanks Gillian! It is a tough transition, but helps to know it is a normal part of development for many kids.

  4. It is funny how all children are different. My son is 10 and he makes sure that he gives me a kiss on the cheek daily. My daughter who is 13 does the same thing. I know that sooner or later they may not want to do that or receive hugs and kisses any more but I know that this is all a part of growing up!


    1. Mel, and my eldest is so careful about who is around and what he does, but when he does reach out with spontaneous affection, it is such a gift!

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