Carolyn Hax Live: No means stop, even for tickling (Friday, Feb. 20)

Feb 20, 2015

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax chats live every Friday at noon to answer any questions you might have about this strange train we call life.

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Hi everybody. Happy to be logged in without event. 

Hi Carolyn (I tried sending this last week, don't think it worked), My 8 year old son recently told me about an experience this past thanksgiving and christmas. Long story short he didn't want to go to his cousins house, who I will call Jane and Jenny. They are 11 and 12. He said they tickle tortured him. He said that the first time they tricked him by telling him to lay down to do a trick, one lifted up his shirt and held him while the other one "tickled the heck out of me" according to him. On christmas, they pried his socks off and tickled him again. He wet his pants because of this. I am overthinking this? How should I handle this? Should I tell him to tough up and deal with it?

Sweet baby deity, no. Never push a kid to submit to unwelcome touching, under any circumstances. 

Thank him for telling you the truth about what his cousins are doing. Tell him what they did isn't okay, even if they insist it was just being silly or teasing. There is nothing silly about restraining someone and causing discomfort and such extreme humiliation.

Assure him that  it's okay for him to choose not to be alone with these cousins or anyone else who bullies like that, or to say no when they ask him to do something that arouses his suspicions, or to fight back in his own defense. Assure him you will back him on this and intervene on his behalf whenever needed, including to make sure you don't put him in this position again.

You also need to call these girls' parents and say what happened, so the parents can address their taste for power tripping. It's ugly. If I heard my kids were doing this, I would start some serious intervention. 

Hi Carolyn! Early last year, you responded to my letter about how my mom wouldn't "let" me move away from home, despite the fact that I was 28 (now 29 years old), educated, fully-employed, etc. Well, I wanted to update you and the readers who weighed in with their amazing bits of advice, encouragement, constructive criticisms, etc. Not only have I moved out...I've moved to another state! Last month I moved from the DC area to Boulder, Colorado! On my own! My mom wasn't too pleased at first, but she eventually came around and is happy for me. But her "coming around" was never a primary concern of mine; at one point I even remember telling her "Mom, I'm going to do this whether or not you like it. So you'll just have to deal with it on your own as best you can. I love you but I have to make this move because I love myself, too." I'm having an amazing time in Boulder and I finally, finally, FINALLY feel like an adult, with all of its ups and downs. Thank you Carolyn for giving me the wake up call I needed.

Such good news, thank you and congratulations. And yay to your mom for growing beyond what she thought were her limits, too.

My adult only child, 34, has mental illness and has estranged herself completely for the last few years, rejecting all contact. I have done everything I possibly can and, with a lot of help, finally have accepted I can't fix it, and must simply wait. The anguish for the first few years was breathtaking but I am re-engaging in life again--even dating a little. My question is, how best to answer well-meaning queries from new friends who naturally expect we'll trade info about our children? It is so painful to acknowledge the situation ("I don't know" is the truthful answer to most natural questions about her life), and seeing others' looks of shock (or worse, judgment) almost makes it not worth venturing out. Any ideas? Thank you.

"Sadly, my child has estranged herself from family." You don't need to explain further. For those who take a judgmental position, be grateful you have this to weed out people you don't want in your life. For those who are shocked, I'd like to know what bubble they're living in, but I guess that's not the kindest possible response, either. 

If/when people do ask for details, don't be afraid to say it's a long story that you're not ready to share just yet. Eventually, as you grow close(r) to someone, it will be important to fill in the details, but it's okay to wait until you actually know someone instead of going through it all in every get-to-know-you exchange with new dates.

Just curious: Such as...?

I mean way more than an, "I heard you did this, and that was wrong, you're grounded." It would involve explaining that pinning someone down is bad news, period, because it's not okay to render someone helpless. I'd say I was uncomfortable with the fact that -they- were comfortable with restraining someone. I'd ask how they would feel if they were totally helpless, especially at the hands of older, bigger kids. I'd ask if this was something someone else did to them.

I'd ask how they felt when the poor kid wet his pants, and if I had an example of when they had been brought low by their own body functions, I'd make the connection to that. 

And so on--basically, I'd make sure they looked at it from other angles than their own jollies, because the real issue here is the stunning lack of empathy. Certainly kids are capable of temporary breakdowns in empathy, but I'd be on watch for a good while for any signs that it was more than just an isolated lapse, all the while doing a lot of how-do-you-think-that-person-felt exercises as opportunities arose in the course of daily life.

Carolyn, My spouse retired last year and is home all the time. I am currently working full time and need to find some alone time. How do I tell him without hurting his feelings? Even when I have to stay home sick I still have company. I do love being with him but everyone needs a little alone time, don't they?

Some do some don't. You do, so ask for it. If he's one of the ones who doesn't need alone time, then, yes, it might hurt his feelings. That doesn't mean you can't ask for what you need, it just means you need to be firm and kind in explaining that he has his disposition and you have yours, and yours works a whole lot better when you have x minutes to yourself on a daily basis. 

If he resists hard, don't budge, even while remaining kind: "It's not fair to expect me to be like you. I need x amount of time to recharge. I always have, in fact--you just never noticed that because I got it while you were working. Now that you're not working, I need to adjust our routine to give me that time. I propose [your preferred arrangement]. Deal?"

If he refuses you that, then have a Plan B ready where you're the one taking the initiative and therefore are less reliant on his consent--for example, you go for a 30 minute solo walk. 

If even that is greeted with pouting and complaining, then it might be time for a professional referee. But, that might be getting ahead of ourselves--your letter isn't about his resistance, just your fear of it, right?

For the person whose adult child is estranged: when I want to avoid a topic, I toss the conversation back at the questioner - "Unfortunately, I'm estranged from my child, but tell me more about your child doing 'x"" that they just mentioned. Sometimes the moment is made more awkward because the questioner, having asked a question that bombed, doesn't know how to move the conversation back along. So if you steer it back to them or their children (doesn't everyone love to talk about themselves) they'll probably be glad to pick up the conversational ball and keep it rolling.

Great point, thanks.

Carolyn is right -- many families have these estrangements and anyone who judges you is either lucky or clueless. Our adult daughter married someone we were pleasant to, but didn't think was a good match. After speaking our piece, she stopped talking to us, yet invited us to the wedding. We went, and made a point of introducing ourselves to everyone (because our daughter barely acknowledged our presence, though her friends say she was glad we came). We've sent her birthday cards and emails, but she has chosen to not reply nor to acknowledge our birthdays, holidays, etc. Like "Estrangement Etiquette," we have made peace with her silence and can only hope she gets back in touch. But it is exceedingly painful when people who've never been in this situation raise their eyebrows when we say we haven't heard from her in months. Please, people. Have some compassion for what others are going through, even if you don't fully understand it.

I am insanely ticklish, and as a kid and young teenager my family tickled me all the time and didn't stop because I was laughing when I asked them to. I trained myself to kick whenever people tickle me (this is a small problem now when I get massages), and just kept saying that I couldn't stop it (which was true), but I wouldn't kick people if they didn't tickle me. I kicked really hard, and this stopped the tickling shortly thereafter. Tickling people who don't want to be tickled is abusive. Absolutely no one should just suck it up. I'm not saying my way is the best way, but self-defense is entirely acceptable for this. You can ask your son what he wants to do -- not that you have to put all the decision-making weight on a child (and you need to take responsibility with your brother/sister, not blame him for whatever the decision is), but that he should be given a choice after it was taken away from him.

"For those who are shocked, I'd like to know what bubble they're living in" - why is that? None of my friends or their children are estranged from their families, nor do I know anyone at work or church facing those issues - it would be a shock for me to hear it. I hope I would be sympathetic, but I would be shocked.

None of my friends or their children has lost a limb in the course of military service, nor do I know anyone at work facing those issues, but I know it's something that happens sometimes despite the best precautions--so if I met someone who had lost a limb in battle, I would feel many things, but not shock. That's why. 

We teach our kids "no means stop" when tickling, playing, etc.

Yes, thank you--this is a message that has to be delivered young and repeated often as kids are growing up. No means stop, no means no, stop means stop, and pressuring the uninterested or undecided is not okay. This message has to be spoken and modeled by the adults in kids' lives.

I don't understand the fear of big changes after a major trauma. I'm also surprised you didn't acknowledge the boyfriend's self-serving interests here too. After all, of course he doesn't want the status quo to change because he benefits from that. I was dumped two weeks before my wedding with no warning. He wasn't "emotionally ready" whatever that means. I cut my hair, got engaged to a man I didn't know well and before we exchanged I love yous, gave up my job and my apartment, and married him. I have a new life with him, complete with better job and home, and we've been going strong for the last five years. Yes, everyone begged me to slow down but what they (and to a larger extent you) don't understand is this: if you do all the so-called "right" things in life, then what does it matter when a trauma shows you exactly how powerless you are? We set up our lives to do and say all the right things and avoid the self-indulgent and rash. But the people who say that, like the boyfriend, just want their worlds to be a certain way because it makes THEM comfortable and happy. I'd tell that LW to do as she pleases because she only has one life. Live it well and uncolored by others' demands and expectations.

I agree with you on breaking away from the do-all-the-right-things mentality, and in fact made huge changes in my life after a major trauma. I just did it in increments, which is what I thought I had advised--but the responses I've gotten suggest I wasn't clear about that at all (many people writing in to "agree" about not making big changes). I do regret that.

I also appreciate your point about how other people are invested in your sameness, for their own comfort and happiness. That's a whole other and very useful way of looking at it, thanks--and it applies beyond post-traumatic choices.


My father-in-law keeps asking me the same question about my career (Would Organization X hire you?). I keep giving him the same answer (They don't hire people who have my skills, and even if they did offer me a position, I wouldn't take it because it would be a bad career move). He always has the same comeback (They know you're a star, and you never know!) I tried not to care, but this is starting to hurt my opinion of him, since it feels like he doesn't want to know me, just his delusions about me. My husband knows this is wearing on me and is annoyed too, but he told his father not to bring up my career any more, and FIL keeps doing it. What do I say the next time he brings this up?

"How about those [local sports team here]?"

"Can you believe all that snow in Boston?"

"Did you see [viral video/photo/tweet du jour]?"

"A drink of water ... yes, I'm going to go get myself one. Anyone else?"

You and your husband have been clear, so now you get to use evasive non sequiturs. Enjoy.


I think the commenter is just not understanding your advice. Maybe it wasn't clear to others either, but your acknowledgment of that doesn't highlight one important part that I took away from it: the letter-writer didn't know herself what she wanted to do. Taking her time to figure that out BEFORE making the changes (and possibly regretting it if it wasn't what she wanted) is the key. If she had decided that she did want to make a big change, then sure, go for it despite how it might impact others' own comfortable situations. But that didn't seem to be the case here, so being cautious before making a change makes sense.

Thanks, that makes sense. I think it was a common misunderstanding, though, which tells me I left the hole in my reasoning that everyone jumped through. Many people took it as a blanket endorsement of waiting a year before big changes.

Why does the alone time have to be in the house? It's one thing to say "I need to have some time to myself;" it's another thing entirely to say "I need you to leave the house for two hours, three days a week, so I can have alone time." The first is understandable to most people. The second, to me, is somewhat presumptive. What the...? Isn't it MY house, TOO?

This is one of those arguments that makes sense on paper but not in practice. Yes, of course, it's the other person's house too, and of course it will feel wrong an presumptuous to ask the other person to leave--but do you know what it feels like ALWAYS to have to leave your home to be alone? Sometimes a person just wants to kick back and enjoy some solitude--book, couch, fresh coffee--without the fuss of making arrangements or accounting for another's needs. A thoughtful spouse doesn't even need to leave, but instead can just observe and preserve the solitude.

New parents are probably the constituency that knows this best (in addition, of course, to the spouses of the newly retired). It's almost always a matter of having a sitter come while the parents leave, when what many tired new parents fantasize about most is just plopping down at home and having no one need them for a couple of hours.

Anyway, I think people who pay attention to their spouse's needs would have no trouble with the idea, specifically, of bugging out for a bit to let a spouse putter and recharge at home alone. Begrudging each other's needs in general is not the path to marital glory.

There's a big difference between living your life/not always playing it safe and making huge life-altering decisions when you're reeling. Had this poster's new husband not turned out to be compatible - and she wouldn't know, would she, if she married him before she got to know him well - she'd be singing a different tune, methinks. Just because you get lucky doesn't mean throwing caution to the wind is good standing advice. Maybe better advice would be to have some confidence that you'll be able to live with your regrets. (I'd think that goes for regular big decisions, too, and not just ones you face when someone dies or leaves you.)

The  "have some confidence that you'll be able to live with your regrets" is very good advice, certainly, but I won't go along with you in chalking up the poster's happiness purely to luck. It is possible for a trauma to reorder things--forcibly, yes, horribly, yes, and with a lot of emotional fallout--into a perspective and self-knowledge that just makes sense. As in, "Holy crap, THIS is what matters." Sometimes acting on these brand new priorities will backfire, but that's what the incremental steps are for.

Remember, she said she got engaged before knowing him well, not married, big difference.

I am sure you're getting a lot of responses like this, but THANK YOU for emphasizing that forcible tickling is not acceptable. The trapping/helplessness issue is huge, but even leaving that aside, some people just don't find tickling pleasant. At all. Tickling makes me laugh, but that's a physical reflex to something that actually feels BAD to me. It took me a long time to realize that some people actually don't mind being tickled! (Oddly enough, being squeezed in a bear hug also triggers my "laugh" reflex, but in a good way - I imagine this is what tickling feels like to people who like it.)

Hi Carolyn! I'm a newlywed who seems to have walked into an ugly family dynamic. My husband's mother (72) and sister (36) have lived together for the past ten years, for reasons I do not totally understand, and my husband and I just bought a house not far away from them. We see them at least once a week for Sunday dinner at their house. When my husband is there, everything revolves around him: what he's doing at work, TV shows he likes, what he thinks of the food, etc. When my husband is not there (sometimes he leaves town for work, or sometimes he's just not in the room), the two women bicker lightly at best, scream and yell at each other at worst. Their relationship is intensely unhealthy, and I am often called upon to answer awkward questions ("Doesn't Bonnie need to lose 15 pounds?") or to otherwise referee. The last time it happened, I left the house. I'm not sure what to do, or whether to do anything. When I tried to talk to my husband about it, it was very clear that he did not really have a clue what I was talking about--for whatever reason, they hide this ugly side of their relationship from him. I could keep leaving the room or the house whenever this happens, but that doesn't seem like the most proactive or helpful response. As the only fresh pair of eyes this family has had in a while, do I have a responsibility to intervene here? I'm not a therapist or anything, but I have some experience with family counseling (it would definitely be a help here, but I'm sure no one would be interested).

Wt[h]?! You told your husband this happened when he wasn't there, and he didn't believe you?

Yes, this whole family needs counseling, including it's Golden Boy, but I have zero confidence any of them will get it. 

Please have a few stock phrases handy for when you deal with your mother's husband and sister, such as, "I will not get into the middle of this," "What an unkind thing to say to somebody," "If this is how it's going to be, then I'll be leaving now."

And pretty please don't let your husband's I-don't-know-what-you're-talking-about response stand as the last word on this. Instead: "This has been on my mind since we first talked about it, and it's really bothering me. I told you what happens between your mom and sister when you aren't there on Sundays, and you didn't acknowledge it. It is happening, and it's bad, and they're saving it for when you're not there. Maybe we can't do anything about it, or you don't want me to do anything, but I'd at least like you to acknowledge that what I'm telling you is real and very difficult for me to be around."

Possibly another comment for another time, but don't all successful relationships have a huge luck factor? The fact that your partner didn't die, cheat, leave you, join the circus, etc. plays a huge role in addition to all the other zillion things that are out of your control too.

I was the one who wanted alone time at home. I work long hours sometimes, and might go for months on end without any time by myself in my house. Then I would make arrangements to be at home when I knew they wouldn't be there, but then the spouse starting changing things up so that anytime I was home, they would be too. It was almost comical when one day I said I would be home while they were at the doctor, and they said "oh I can change the appointment or maybe you can come with me." Before I could soften it, I burst out with "no, I'm staying home -because- you're at the doctor." It was a short conversation, but spouse had no idea I needed the time and was happy to make it work. And I had no idea that spouse felt like my work hours made our couples time scarce.

Carolyn: 2 years ago, hubby and I bought our dream home in an upper middle class suburb. Prior to that we lived in, well basically a dump, while we saved, paid off bills etc. We both work, both make 6 figures. Life is good. BUT, our new a recent jewelry party one woman threw, I asked one of the women present what she did after she mentioned how busy/tired she was. She said "Oh I don't work; my husband wants me to, but I told him I can't work and give him clean laundry and hot meals and a clean house too." I was a little shocked and said, "I work and my family gets all of those things." Turns out NONE of the women in this neighborhood work and now I'm not invited to the parties, etc.. (I see them going to one and other's doors, etc.. so I know they all socialize). I should explain this is a new division--we all moved in within a few months of each other so it's not a matter of them knowing each other longer. I feel surrounded by Stepford Wives. What can I do?

You get used to the idea of living there but not socializing there, I guess--unless you want to make the effort to rebuild the bridge you burned with your response to the homemaker.

Granted, the implication that people can't have a nice, functioning household and a job is ridiculous, but look at what she said from a different angle: Maybe she wasn't saying that no one could do this, just that -she- couldn't do it. And isn't she entitled to decide what workload she is willing and able to assume, without getting a defensive response from someone with different priorities and limits?

Certainly it's possible you've unwittingly moved into a nest of Mommy Warriors, and ultimately won't find a happy place in the neighborhood social network. However, I have a hard time believing the individuals who make up the neighborhood wives circuit are all of one hive mind. Make the effort. Expect them to have different histories and priorities and opinions and receptiveness to you. If they don't have them now (improbably), remember, their lives will take them all kinds of different places even from this similar starting point.

Specifically seek out the one you spoke to and apologize for getting off on the wrong foot. 

If nothing sticks, then, oh well, right?

I didn't get the impression that the husband didn't believe her, but that when she told him what happened, that side of their relationship was news to him. If they've never acted that way in front of him, then he really wouldn't know what she was talking about.

Right, but he could validate it and express concern and talk to her about ways he and she can deal with it from now on--in which case I don't think she'd be writing to me. OP described the conversation with her husband as a dead end, which struck me as part of the messed up dynamic in the family, where he's the sun and the planets aren't his concern.

I just wanted to thank you for continuing the conversation on tickling. My wife has said she doesn't like to be tickled, but every time I lightly do it -- even accidentally, like brushing against her (yes, she's that ticklish in certain spots) -- she laughs hard, then forces a frowny face and says "Don't do that, I don't like it!" From my point of view, she's laughing -- how can she say she doesn't like it?? I always chalked it up to a control issue (she has others, which is why I put it in this bucket) -- she doesn't like that someone else is MAKING her laugh by tickling her, so once she gets over the laughter/good feelings, she's angry that she was made to lose control. However, based on some of the comments from posters it seems that the laughter isn't actual laughter but something different. She honestly never differentiated that to me, so this helps tremendously in understanding.

You're welcome, and I hope this helps you two beyond just the tickling thing.

And I can underscore that, yes, laughing can be involuntary and not a happy thing. Thanks for writing in.


I'm in my early thirties. I know there are a lot of issues I need to work on, namely poor self esteem, mistrust, fear of abandonment etc. I am seeking help through therapy, and I'm actually not very interested in dating, but is it a smart idea to even try? At what point should I get back on they horse? I don't know if I'll ever really be fixed. Thank you.

Define "fixed." We all have our stuff.

When you get to a point where you feel you have a good understanding of your issues--what your tendencies are, what unhealthy choices you tend to make, how you can see these coming and redirect yourself--then there's no reason you can't be a good partner to someone. 

When you talk about it as getting "back on the horse," though, it sounds like an item on a chore list instead of a basic way of living. With the latter, you take care of yourself, work at a vocation, fill your life with things you enjoy, and if you happen to meet someone you like who likes you back, then you find ways to spend extra time with that person. 

With the former, you have your life ... over here, and you have this other thing, "dating," as a series of steps you undertake to accomplish a certain thing. That, I don't think you should do to yourself--not just while you're sorting things out, but ever. Just figure yourself out, figure out what makes sense for you, and be open to kind people you meet on your way. 

If there comes a time where that's not enough for you, then that will be your sign to make a more deliberate effort. Now, when you're "actually not very interested in dating," that's your permission to make no effort at all besides the ones you're making in therapy, and in your daily life, to get stronger. That's good stuff on its own.

Carolyn - We live in a similar neighborhood, and my wife, a professional, has faced similar attitudes. However, your "oh well" response doesn't cut it. The LW doesn't say, but I'm presuming that she doesn't currently have kids. She may want to someday (soon?), and being the "outcast (working) mom" amongst a neighborhood of SAHMs can be crushing - not only to the mom but to her kids as well. (You can't believe the ostracism that parents can - by proxy - enforce through their kids ignoring neighbor kids.) Just sayin' . . .

True, with two buts--it goes well beyond just SAHMs vs the outcast full-time worker. Certainly other examples of a bunch of X's not welcoming the lone Y abound, wherever humans gather, including the lone SAHM who feels cast out by the prevailing group of double-income families. 

The second "but" is that the kid problem can just be that one family's kid doesn't get accepted by the gang in charge of the local cul de sac, even when the parents are in-crowders. And, likewise, the outcast parent can have a child who does fit in, and strangeness ensues.

My point being that kids add not just the complication you describe, but a whole new pile of complications.

That actually makes the inadequacy of my "oh well" even more acute. I just wish there were something better to advise besides making the effort to be civil and working hard not to take it personally. And, making sure any excluded kids are involved in rewarding things outside the neighborhood. It hurts less if you're not often there.

I'm a wife/mom who works outside the home, and I could feel the judgment dripping from your response to the housewife/homemaker. Even if you apologize and manage to make nice with these women, they're not going to be your friend unless you can actually drop the judgment. Please listen to Carolyn, and don't approach this woman with an apology that you don't really mean. Mean it, or avoid 'em.

"However, I have a hard time believing the individuals who make up the neighborhood wives circuit are all of one hive mind." That is true. And the fastest way to find real friends in the neighborhood is to ask one of the Stepfords who else is not invited. Unless your subdivision is just one culdesac (in which case, yeah, you're screwed, start looking elsewhere), there will be others. It'll be like getting a list of all the interesting, worthwhile, and fun people in one convenient dose. I guarantee the other excluded will make awesome friends.

I'm surprised you even want to be friends with the neighbors, given how little respect you grant them (from devaluing their roles as homemakers to assuming they are all alike and interchangeable). I'd encourage a little more soul-searching about your own part in this new neighborhood dynamic.

A woman with the fortitude to openly disagree with her husband about her well-being, then matter-of-factly tell her friends about that disagreement, is about as far as you can get from a Stepford Wife. These women have the autonomy and freedom to live their lives as they see fit. If LW is confident in her lifestyle and her marriage, she will not be threatened or put on the defense when they say something she doesn't relate to.

It’s hard to believe that an adult doesn’t realize that laughing at tickling is involuntary, but stranger things have happened. But even if you didn't know, it doesn’t matter whether she’s laughing. She’s told you *repeatedly* that she doesn’t like it and she doesn’t want you to do it. Maybe use this as an opportunity to decide that if she says she doesn’t like something, that means she doesn’t like it, and if she says not to do something to her, then don’t. If it turns out that she was only teasing, let her tell you that. It’s always better to err on the side of respecting boundaries.

Our family has always hugged and snuggled. In the last few years, my older daughter (20) has been not nice in telling her younger sister to "don't touch me" when her younger sister snuggles up to her. Older daughter doesn't seem to mind other people's snuggling/hugging and frequently comes up and snuggles with me--on her own terms of course. I worry that it's a sibling thing, and I don't like her being what I perceive as being mean to her younger sister. Don't know if I'm handling it correctly. I try to acknowledge that it's permitted and reasonable to reject unwanted touches, but also say that since her sister is family, perhaps she should say it nicer....rather than just demanding "don't touch me" without explanation. Her younger sister is very hurt.

Wish I knew the younger sister's age--I can see her being hurt, but I also hope she's soon old enough and rational enough just to stop trying to snuggle this sister, even if she never gets an adequate explanation for the rejections.

I do think your handling of it is fine as far as it goes, both with validating the right to reject unwanted touches and the need for kindness, but have you talked to your older daughter about what's going on in general? And have you talked to the younger (in or near the moment) to say you imagine the rejections sting? And to point out to/remind her that things like this feel personal but often aren't? And to reinforce with her that when people aren't welcoming a touch, it's best to leave them alone unless/until they initiate?

It could just be that younger drives older crazy, or does right now, and that's unfortunate but not uncommon. But, if there's something more to it, it couldn't hurt to find out. 

Beyond this groundwork and occasional reminders, though, the two of them will need to work this out. 

I wanted to get your thoughts about kids and hugging. This is related to your point that kids shouldn't be made to submit to touching they don't like (from the tickling question). Sometimes (perfectly nice and appropriate) adult relatives want to hug my kids as greeting or to say good-bye. And for whatever reason, my kids don't want to hug them. I never insist because I figure it's their choice. However, other parents will insist their children hug me (or other adults), in the same situation. I wonder if I am teaching my kids to be impolite. But, there is something about telling a kid to let someone touch them, when the kid doesn't want them to that feels uncomfortable to me. Do you think I am being too black and white about this issue? Curious how others see this. Thanks!

I don't think you're being too black and white. Teach your kids to be polite, yes, by speaking clearly and responding when spoken to and saying please and thank you, but let them decline a hug they don't want.

FWIW, I don't think the occasional "Give your auntie a hug!!" is going to create body-defenseless doormats, just that if we're discussing the idea of having a policy, I think erring on the side of body autonomy is the way to go.


That's it for today. I realize I let a couple of topics dominate more than I usually do, but I though it was worth it this week. Apologies if they weren't your thing.

Anyway, thanks everybody, have a great weekend and type to you here next week. 

In This Chat
Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis. The column has since gone daily and into syndication, where it appears in over 200 newspapers. Carolyn joined The Post in 1992 as a copy editor in Style, and became a news editor before turning to writing full-time. She is the author of "Tell Me About It" (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon on She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.

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