My younger son started giving me his cheek at bedtime when he was around six. Meanwhile, his big brother, at age 10, still plants a big kiss on me every night and when he gets out of the car at school in the morning. My concern has always been the heartbreak I’ll feel when he decides he doesn’t want a kiss anymore. But recently, I started wondering if our smooch is weird and if there’s a cutoff date for kissing kids on the lips.
My instinct says he’ll decide when he’s too old and until then, I’m not doing anything that’s going to land him in therapy—but should I pull back? Would that be worse? What about dads and daughters? I did some digging and found strong arguments from both sides and a great suggestion for how to decide when it’s time to stop puckering up.
Here’s one argument against kissing kids on the lips.
Do you remember a few years ago when some celebrities raised eyebrows by posting pictures of themselves kissing their kids? David and Victoria Beckham, Hilary Duff, and Tom Brady seemed to have garnered the most attention. One child psychologist, Dr. Charlotte Reznick, reacted to the uproar saying you should never kiss your kids, because “when do you stop?” She said that while it’s harmless when the child is two or three, when kids get older and sexual awareness develops, a kiss “can be stimulating.”
OK. Yes, it’s true that the lips are an erogenous zone, but if you’re kissing your eight-year-old the same way you’re kissing your husband, there are other issues that need to be addressed. So to me, this argument is nonsense.
What makes more sense is this argument.
What’s problematic is if your child is uncomfortable with a kiss but doesn’t want to hurt your feelings by saying so, or he or she has said so and you or Dad aren’t respecting that boundary. Studies have shown that parental affection is healthy and can lead to less anxiety in children, but unwanted affection is not going to lead to the same end. So it’s not the kiss that’s the culprit. It’s not bad to kiss your kids on the lips unless they have asked you not to.
This is a hint that it’s time to stop:
If they verbally or nonverbally ask. As much as it hurts moms to have their babies turn a cheek, respecting that decision is a powerful way to support your child’s internal locus of control. When parents respect a child’s desire to do or not do something, we communicate to our children that they are able to determine what happens to them instead of waiting for someone else to decide for them.
But what if you think your child is too old?
I’m big on physical affection. It’s my primary love language by a mile. As soon as my kids walk in the door after school, I give them both big hugs and whenever they’re within arm’s reach, I’m probably touching them. As a person who likes to be shown love that way, I am sensitive to how it would feel if one day, Mom pulled away and said, “Sorry, kid, you’re too old for a kiss.”
At the same time, a mom has to trust her gut about these things and if you think it’s time, there’s no harm in suggesting a kiss on the cheek instead. Then smother your kids with hugs, tousle their hair, hold their hands, and do anything else to show them you love them.
What’s your take on parents kissing their kids on the lips? Is there an age you should stop?
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