by Gabrielle Hillman, B.A., Graduate Intern

The holidays can be a fun and exciting time for most kids. Lots of family, friends, and of course presents! However, for some children, the holidays may present themselves to be difficult when greeting family and friends. It can feel scary, and intimidating to be in the presence of so many unfamiliar faces. All of these new faces, smells, and activities can be extremely overwhelming for anyone! Here are a few tips to help guide your kids through the holidays if meeting new people or greeting old friends may be tricky for your kids.

Validate Their Feelings

If your child refuses to greet a family member or friend in a specific way (e.g. refusal of hugs/kisses) it is a great opportunity to start a conversation regarding consent and autonomy with both your child and your family. For some, hugs may feel too overwhelming and a simple handshake or a wave may be a more reasonable expectation. If you notice resistance from your child during greetings, try having the conversation in private rather than right on the spot in front of the family member/friend. Listen to the child and see what their concerns may be. Sometimes hugs can be a sensory overload, fuzzy sweaters or itchy beards, it can sometimes get to be too much – especially for kids who have sensory sensitivities.

Foster Independence

Talk to your kids, ask what parts they don’t like, and you can encourage a conversation about what greetings they do feel comfortable with. You want your child to understand that they have the power to make choices about their own bodies. When a child refuses to engage in certain greetings or tradition, they are practicing their own personal autonomy. It is important that they are not reprimanded or shamed during this, in order to continue to develop a healthy understanding of self. 


This is a great conversation to have prior to a party rather than in the moment. If you have noticed they are apprehensive to give hugs or kisses, observe and reflect on this rather than force them to do so. You want your child to remember that they have the choice to decide if/who they allow within their personal bubble. It is important for children to learn that they have choices when it comes to their bodies and this autonomy should not change just because of the holidays.

Offer Choices

You can talk with your kids in a safe and comfortable environment and ask them if there is a preferred method of greetings- get creative! A wave, a handshake, a high five, a special dance, maybe a thumbs up. This gives your child the option to play a participatory role in the choice and make it more personal for them while still making sure the interaction is something they will feel comfortable doing.

Don’t Worry, it’s Developmentally Appropriate

Expressing caution around unfamiliar adults is a good safety skill and strength for a child to have. Remember that family and friends, who the child may only see 1-3 times a year, can seem to be a stranger. Even if you have a close relationship with them, your child may just be expressing a great skill of being cautious. Learn how to embrace that decision and advocate for your child. This is important in ensuring boundaries and keeping children safe. 

Advocating for Your Child

For family and friends: let them know you are working on teaching your child about boundaries, that hugging can be a little much, and engage with them to show both the child and the family member or friend that there are many fun ways to say hello. Help facilitate these interactions and conversations and be open to answer questions!  

Gabrielle Hillman
AM (MSW Equivalent) Candidate, University of Chicago, 2021
Behavioral Intervention Graduate Intern, Tuesday’s Child
B.A., Sociology, DePaul University, 2017

Holiday Hugs: How to set your child up for success