Jillian Childres isn't just a pediatrics psychologist, she's a mother to a 3-year-old son.
The little boy recently didn't want to give the wife of one of her husband's coworkers a goodbye hug. After the woman asked, Childres — also an associate professor at the University of South Florida — saw panic in her son's face. The request clearly made him uncomfortable.
"Why don't you go give her knuckles?" Childres suggested.
That he could do, walking over to the woman and happily giving her a little fist-bump goodbye.
Although a recent Girl Scouts campaign urging parents to not force their daughters to "owe" someone a hug this holiday season focused on young girls, Childres said the advice is sound regardless of gender.
With Thanksgiving upon us, she understands why parents have been sharing the Girl Scouts' blog post rapidly over the last few weeks.
"Making them share their bodies with other people is not something we should be forcing," she said.
The Girl Scouts blog suggests that forcing your child to give physical contact — a hug or kiss — to show gratitude for a gift can create an exchange that could influence how they view relationships later in life.
It could set the stage, the post says, for a girl to question whether she owes a date physical contact after, say, she's had her dinner paid.
"The notion of consent may seem very grown-up and like something that doesn't pertain to children, but the lessons girls learn when they're young about setting physical boundaries and expecting them to be respected last a lifetime," said the Girl Scouts' developmental psychologist, Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald, in the blog.
Childres said if you prompt your children to "go kiss auntie" but they seem anxious, suggest they go give a high-wive or blow a kiss instead.
"In a big room with lots of people, a lot of kids are uncomfortable with people focusing on them," she said. "It becomes an anxiety-performance thing."
If it's to show thanks for a gift, Childres said to go over the words the child should use to express gratitude and what it means to be thankful.
She knows some parents get hung up because it may seem like the child is disobeying the initial request. But she's not suggesting children don't thank people, just that they be given some freedom in choosing how they feel most comfortable expressing it.
"You're not allowing them to be rude," she said. "Prompt them with a list of alternatives."
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