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"Give Aunt Jodi a Kiss and Say, 'Thank You to Grandma"

Problem: As the holidays approach, I’m anticipating my 4 year old son not cooperating when it comes to kissing his relatives hello and showing appreciation by saying “thank you” after receiving gifts. I worry that I’ll be judged in negative ways if he doesn’t show polite manners to his relatives, (including my mother!). This concern can put a damper on the holidays. I’d like some suggestions on how to deal with this issue so we can enjoy the holidays even when things don’t go smoothly.

Insight: You’re not alone in both your concern and in your child resisting to either kiss relatives or say, “thank you.” Certainly all parents want their child to be liked by relatives, and feel judged unfavorably if their child doesn’t give a kiss or show polite manners - especially after receiving a gift. There are several reasons why a child might be uncomfortable giving a kiss or saying “thank you.” He might feel shy and self-conscious, and not like being focused on. And, many children are uncomfortable with the physical contact of a kiss. Most important to understand is that young children have a hard time thinking about and considering other people’s wishes, including doing what his parents want him to do especially when he’s excited, preoccupied or uncomfortable.

Strategies: What you describe at this age, is not an indication of impoliteness or poor parenting. Yet, in spite of this reassurance, you may still be anticipating the holidays with weighted anxiety and dread.

To help you appreciate the holidays with your son, here’s what to keep in mind:

Don’t be surprised if your son says exactly what he’s thinking about: “I don’t want to kiss her.” ”I don’t want that toy.” These are typical (and normal) responses kids these ages give-even to people they love. Since young children are developmentally egocentric, they say things without considering others feelings. Gradually, this kind of behavior will change.

Do try letting the kiss go and instead of insisting, suggest other options for your son. With your help, he could tell his relatives about something that has recently happened, demonstrate a new skill or show them a favorite possession. He can also “give five,” shake hands, blow a kiss, or give a hug.

Don’t say Grandma will take her present back if you don’t say, “thank you.” This will put too much pressure on your son and put him on the spot, leading to an unnecessary power struggle.

Do consider that sometimes a relative is one your son may rarely see and he may resist kissing because he needs time to get used to a strange face.

Don’t forget to watch for times he uses polite words and reinforce that behavior, “I really like the way you asked for that.”

Do know that kids have their own special ways of thinking about (the consequences of) kissing. One 5 year old told her mother he would “turn old” if he kissed his aunt and another 6 year old didn’t want to kiss her relatives because “people give you germs on your lips.”

Don’t neglect to consider that your son won’t give a kiss good-bye because he doesn’t want a visit to end, although he may not be able to explain this. (You might want to explain this to your mother!)

Do remember to be a good role model for your son and consistently show polite behavior; thank a hostess, write thank you notes, say thank you often in public. Also, say “thank you” often to your son, especially when he’s done what you’ve requested. When your son hears you speaking politely to him and to other children and adults, he’ll begin to do as you do and increasing show appreciation and say, “thank you” on his own.

Don’t overlook the fact that you know your child well. If your child has the type of personality and temperament where he’ll repeat what you ask of him, then you can give him the words to say to relatives, “Say, ‘thank you’ to Uncle Marty.” If this is not the case, don’t hesitate to cheerfully step in: “Thank you. I know he’ll enjoy this.” Your son is listening, watching and ultimately learning from your example.

Bottom Line: We can all remember being small and having a relative pinch our cheeks or demand a kiss. If we recall how we felt then, we can understand our own children’s reluctance to give kisses, and help them find other ways to show appreciation and begin and end enjoyable visits with relatives.

All children, including your son, look forward to the holidays; opening gifts, eating candy, having others around. Your son is only 4. Don’t take his enjoyment away by pressuring, coercing and demanding he act a certain way. Instead, change your holiday focus with your son and enjoy, laugh, hug, make a mess with boxes and wrapping paper, eat and ---Be Merry.

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