Holiday Affection: Teaching kids to set personal boundaries

(KTUU) -- For many, the holidays are built around bringing people together and reuniting with relatives but it could also be a time for difficult conversations.

The Girl Scouts took a stance encouraging parents to not force children to give someone a hug or kiss, even if it’s a family member, if they don't want to.

"Of course, many children may naturally want to hug and kiss family members, friends, and neighbors, and that’s lovely—but if your daughter is reticent, consider letting her choose what to do," the organization wrote in an article on its website.

Gray affiliate KTUU spoke with a clinical psychologist from Providence Behavioral Health, Nadine Baker, for advice on how to navigate holiday social situations.

Baker recommends parents have conversations with children before an event and explain who's going to be there and what behavior they hope to see. "A lot of people who are threats to our children, are people they know more so than strangers,” she said.

“Whether or not we want to protect our children from transferring germs or from getting germs themselves or from being in a situation where they feel like they can't trust themselves and can't come to us for support because the obligation is more important than the needs, there's a lot of reasons we should be talking to our kids and our families about what we expect and what is reasonable," she said.

Baker also offered alternatives for showing affection, "They can say "Hi it's nice to meet you," looking at people in the eye, shaking their hand or just being respectful during the interaction.”

"We're in a place now where we realize that forcing our children to hug and kiss people that they don't know really well sends a mixed message, certainly we would not think that was appropriate if it was a stranger or someone they barely knew," she said.

Keep in mind, adults may also feel uneasy in some social settings. Baker says it's important for adults to understand it's typically not a reflection of how the child feels about them but it's more about making a child feel comfortable.