It’s perhaps one of the most confusing things you can say to a child. Guilty. I’ve said it. A lot of people do. But encouraged cuddles — those that don’t come naturally — confuse many issues. Compliance. Rights. Choice. Obligation. It’s a silent minefield that shouldn’t be underestimated. Yet the tradition continues. Girl Scouts in the United States have put out a warning to parents before the Christmas holidays deterring them from enforced cuddles. “Think of it this way”, the organisation states, “telling your child that she owes someone a hug either just because she hasn’t seen this person in a while or because they gave her a gift can set the stage for her questioning whether she ‘owes’ another person any type of physical affection when they’ve bought her dinner or done something else seemingly nice for her later in life.” Heavy? Maybe. But Australian psychologist Jo Lamble says it’s the early interactions that build future foundations. “Abuse can happen to very young kids,” she said. “I’m not suggesting that having to give an adult a cuddle is abuse, but where do you draw the line? For example, [saying] a cuddle is OK but not a kiss? Or a kiss on the cheek is OK but not on the lips? Or a cuddle is OK but you don’t have to sit on their lap if they ask?” A simple ‘prompted’ cuddle meant with little intention other than good manners, goes against almost everything else we teach our kids. Lessons about rights, choices and ownership. Ms Lamble agrees: “It can be confusing for kids to be told that they have ownership over their personal space and bodies but when asked, they are expected to give an adult a cuddle. “I think it’s confusing to boys and girls because we are not making it clear what is safe and what is not.” Oh my Holy Rudolph, if your family is anything like mine then your diary is chockers with family Christmas events. We’re packing them in like Santa fills a good kid’s stocking but now I’m in a pickle. How do I navigate the season’s hello’s and the goodbye’s? I reached out to Maggie Dent, a renowned parenting educator to ask: are cuddles a thing of the past? “I still remember how awful it was — as a child — to be made to give someone a kiss or a hug