Do you cringe with awkwardness when a parent orders their child to give you a hug? Is it normal not to like getting a hug from another’s child?

You’re not alone and there’s nothing wrong with you, especially if you hardly know the child or are just meeting him or her for the first time.

“It is completely normal and acceptable to feel somewhat adverse to hugging children!” says Patricia Celan, MD, a senior psychiatry resident at Dalhousie University in Canada.

Does this make you a bad person? Certainly not.

You need to know that your feelings about this in no way mean there’s something wrong with you or that you’re coldhearted or abnormal.

You’re perfectly normal!

Heck, many adults do not want someone else’s children hugging them, even if they just rescued their cat out of a tree or found their lost toy.

In fact, many adults also don’t want adults hugging them, either. This is just the way some people are.

“Unfortunately, society places a high emphasis on parenthood and maternal/paternal instincts,” says Dr. Celan.

“All adults are expected to like children, to be good with children and to want to be close to them.

“That is simply not the case; about 15% of adults are voluntarily childfree, and even someone who likes children may prefer to keep them at a distance.

“Given society’s strong emphasis on maternal/paternal instincts, many people are not progressive enough to understand and respect someone’s desire to not hug a child.

“It should not be taken as a personal insult, just a personal choice. In fact, it’s off-putting to assume that an adult’s personal space can be comfortably invaded by a child.

“Rather than instructing your child to hug an adult, let it happen naturally if it will; neither party may actually want to hug.”

You should not be expected to feel the same way about kids you barely know, let alone just met, as you do about hugging your own children or other young kids who have a place in your heart — such as nieces, nephews, kids of cousins, or perhaps a neighbor’s child you’ve been babysitting or a child you’ve been coaching one-on-one in tennis and she just won a tournament.

I’m talking about those unexpected circumstances where a parent suddenly says, “Go give that nice woman (you) a big hug for blowing up your balloons.”

What are these parents thinking?

Actually, what are they NOT thinking? They’re not considering the possibility that the adult, despite a kindly or generous gesture, does not like being hugged by people (outside the immediate family) — whether they are 47 or 27 or seven years of age.

Parents take the chance of putting the stranger/adult on the spot.

If you’re one of these parents, you should not assume that every adult wants to be hugged by your child, no matter how darling and pretty Breeanna is, or how cute and rosy-cheeked Jayson is.

When it’s time to show gratitude, hopefully you will have already taught your kids the importance of verbally thanking adults who assist them in some way.

A Compelling Question

Hugs are not necessary to show the gratitude. That nice lady who did a favor for your daughter helped YOU out too!

Yet — you didn’t hug her. Why? Why should only your child hug her while you get a pass?

Maybe it’s because you figured that the person would feel uncomfortable with you hugging her. Or maybe you just didn’t want to. Hmmm…

If she’d feel uncomfortable with you putting your arms around her, doesn’t it stand to reason that she probably wouldn’t want a smaller pair of arms around her as well?

Your best course of action is to just prompt your child to say “Thank you” if they already haven’t. And then leave it at that.

Solutions for the Adult Who Does Not Want a Hug from a Child

I’ve known plenty of adults who don’t want others’ children hugging them, but were very huggy kissy with their own kids.

Don’t let anybody get away with saying, “You must not like kids.”

Here’s a Killer Response

“How would you feel if I threw my arms around you for doing a small favor for me? And every time you did a nice thing, I put my arms around you and squeezed?”

The person might say, “I’d be okay with that,” to get out of being put on the spot and losing this skirmish. But you can bet that person is thinking, “I wouldn’t like it at all.”

However, chances are good that he or she will admit that they wouldn’t want every adult, for whom they do a favor, hugging them.

That’s when you say half-jokingly, “Oh, does that mean you must not like adults?”

If you’re the targeted recipient of an unwanted hug from a child, and are not very assertive but still want a way out of this awkward situation, you can always put your hands up and state, “Oops, no hugs today; I have a cold and I don’t want you to catch it; but your smile is enough to thank me!”

Dr. Celan is a post-graduate trainee in psychiatry, working in diagnosing and treating patients with psychiatric conditions. She is passionate about psychotherapy, especially in trauma, anxiety and depression.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.