Two-Year-Old Carl vs. Adult Social Expectations

As parents we teach our children that they own their bodies – they don't have to do anything that makes them uncomfortable, and that if someone tries to make them do anything that makes them uncomfortable, they should come and tell us.


Then Grandma turns up with their great-aunt. They have never met her (or at least not recently enough to remember), and the first thing she wants is a kiss.

For our son Nolan, this is no problem. He will be slobbering over her in no time. But then he also once actually took the hand of a stranger and walked off to get candy. (The stranger meant no harm, and I watched the whole time, but "stranger danger" just doesn't exist for him.)

Our son Carl, on the other hand, refuses to kiss strangers – and even sometimes Grandma, who visits as many as four or five times a week. He leaves me standing there facing mounting social expectation to force him to give physical affection, which he clearly doesn't want to give.

His great-aunt puts on a sad face. Grandma fakes crying to try to guilt him into it.

I know there is no way for Carl to know the difference between this safe situation and a dangerous one, if – god forbid – it ever arises.

I also remind myself that, besides Carl, everyone else in this situation is an adult. If I give into social expectations, I am asking a two-year-old to be mature enough to ignore his own discomfort in order not to hurt his great-aunt’s feelings. Alternatively, I could ask the adult to ignore her hurt feelings in order to not make my two-year-old uncomfortable.

In a standoff between social expectations and my child, I will always side with my child.

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