Should grandparents need consent to kiss their grandchildren?

If the ever-growing amount of public apologies and job resignations are anything to go by, it would appear as though social interaction is a more complex process than ever before. 

Public outrage and extreme viewpoints regarding the most basic language and actions have created an atmosphere that has big companies and governments scrambling to do everything in their power not to offend anyone, and those in the business of training and education are seizing their chance to try and reshape what ‘normal’ should be. 

The issue of consent has seen a boom in terms of education recently, as children in kindergarten are beginning to receive education regarding body-autonomy in an effort to thwart the prevalence of child sexual abuse.

And one of the examples currently being used to introduce the idea of consent is teaching children that they have the right to refuse a hug or a kiss from their grandparents.  

While nobody could possibly argue that teaching children about consent is a bad thing, using grandparents as an example within education that is meant to help prevent the sexual abuse of children has definitely raised some eyebrows. 

Childhood educator and manager of HUSHeducation, Margie Buttris, spoke with HelloCare and shared her thoughts regarding the issue of consent, and the divisiveness of using grandparents as an example for this issue.

“If a child can speak, or react in a way that their message is clear (smiling, leaning in or pulling away, leaning back, wiggling out of someone’s grasp), yes, I do believe that everyone – grandparents included – should ask if it’s OK to hug or kiss a grandchild/child,” said Buttris.

“A simple, ‘Do you want to give granny a hug?’, ‘Is it ok if I ask for a kiss?’ or ‘How do you want to say bye for today?’ are all easy, respectful ways to ask for consent or permission.”

Reasoning & criticism

While many have been quick to dismiss the idea of grandparents requiring consent as political correctness gone mad, sadly, the main perpetrators of sexual abuse against children are not the strangers that people warn their children about. Statistics show that the majority of sexual abuse experienced by children is committed by someone in the family. 

In saying that, the question of whether placing a grandparent in this conversation could negatively affect a child’s perception of them is surely a valid one.

When asked if she felt that if teaching a child that they did not have to accept a kiss or hug from a grandparent may suggest that a grandparent may have sinister motives, Buttris was adamant in her response. 

“Absolutely not! Children need clear and simple rules. They also have the right to autonomy just as adults do,” she said.

“It’s difficult to say that ‘these’ people [and how do you even decide whom is on the list?] can hug or kiss you whenever they want, even if you don’t feel like it or would prefer to greet them in another way – but other people can’t touch you without your permission.”

Buttris continued, “Have a simple across the board rule – no-one can touch your body [*unless it’s a helping or healing touch with a trusted adult present] without your permission. It’s as easy to say, ‘Do you feel like a hug?’ as it is to say, ‘Give me a hug.’ 

“Grandparents are not being singled out or being portrayed as scary or sinister – the rules apply to everyone. I honestly believe that grandchildren will feel safer, more relaxed and more excited to be with or seeing their grandparents when they know their feelings will be acknowledged and respected. It builds trust and connection.”

Having one simple rule across the board may help in terms of making the concept of consent easier for children to understand, but having such a ‘black and white’ approach to something as nuanced consenting-affection is bound to cause friction in some cases. 

Children who look unhappy may actually be looking for a hug or a kiss to feel better about themselves, and there have been grandparents on social media that have pointed to spontaneous acts of affection as a way of showing love and helping kids disconnect from their technical devices. 

But Buttris insists that asking before any kind of physical engagement is the best policy for any grandparent wanting to respect their grandchild’s boundaries. 

“Grandparents and other relatives and friends can ask for permission before touching,” said Buttris.

“They can listen to a child, ask how they’re feeling, pay attention to their body language. They can verbally and physically respect a ‘NO’ without shaming. ‘Because you said no to a kiss today, I won’t kiss you. Is there another way you would like to say goodbye?’

“The parents of the child have a huge role to play while the family are learning the ‘body safety rules’. It’s their place to support their child’s decisions, offer support to grandparents who are feeling disrespected or sad, offer alternative greeting options, and avoid forcing a child to hug, kiss or be touched.”

The old adage of children getting ‘what they need’ as opposed to ‘what they want’ has been a long-standing method of parenting, and generally speaking, parents force-feeding their children healthy food in light of a child’s request for chocolate and ice-cream is encouraged.

And an argument could be made that the same approach regarding affection could be beneficial for a child in terms of feeling loved.

The problem with a question like this is that both sides of this argument have something very valuable to lose. 

On the one hand, the relationship between a child and a grandparent can be one of the most rewarding and purest forms of true love imaginable, and it feels disrespectful and alarmist to lump millions of well-intentioned elderly people into a conversation that involves their grandchildren and the topic of consent, given the sexual connotations.

But on the other hand, in a society where physical, verbal and sexual abuse is still a major issue, teaching people from a young age about consent and having control over their body is a valid endeavour, even if some adult feelings get hurt in the process.

Regardless of which side of the fence you sit on regarding this topic, parents should trust their instincts regarding their kids, and any feelings of unease when a child is in the presence of a family member should be all the incentive required to remove the child from that person’s presence.

Whether or not you think that kisses from a grandparent should require asking permission, the one thing that everyone should be able to agree on is that those kisses are special.

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  1. As a grandmother and a great grandmother I have asked my children and grand children not to force their children to have to kiss. Instead they just say ok say bye to Nan. The little ones wrap their arms and say bye. Some of the older great grandchildren in their teens kiss and one who I love dearly as I do all of them, is 14 and I know he doesn’t feel comfortable kissing. We push knuckles. Yet this youth will carry my bag. Hold the door for me and hold my walking stick. All in public as well. So I think we must realize our grandchildren are individuals and we must respect each of them and learn their comfort zones. They are our treasures and we have so much to give in wisdom and knowledge.

  2. This is such nonsense telling a grandparent not to kiss your grandchild goodbye or good night,especially if you have been doing it since birth. It insinuates there is something wrong with the grandparent and the child has to wonder why this is happening now.Some of this parenting advise is harmful to relationships and are just plain the “flavor of the day” advice. The above article is just so wrong .It creates real harm in relationships between the parents, grandparents and the child.If the child wants to refuse ,that’s fine and acceptable. I truly don’t believe all these “experts” realize their advise is harmful and hurtful. Why would you want to do that?

    1. I totally agree. A hug, kiss is a sign of affection. Our society today are so over the top. People kiss and hug their dogs and no one bats an eye over this.. We are not doing our children justice when they can not have genuine heartfelt signs of affection. It should never be forced on, but it is a sign of love and no one loves their grandchildren more than their grandparents do. We have become a heartless society !!! When grandparents can not show affection to our grandchildren. The world is becoming so twisted minded.

      1. You both do realize that the point being made is to teach children about autonomy from an early age in order for them to learn what their boundaries are. Yes, they use grandparents as the example but, don’t take it personal and miss the whole point because of that. Given that child abuse is a real and legitimate issue in society, the point is about teaching children that they are able to express their personal boundaries with anybody, not just grandparents.


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