As a family life and child development expert, JP has devoted years in nurturing students and strengthening family relations.
Do you kiss your child on the lips? There are people who'd say that’s acceptable and those who’d condemn you for doing so. The truth is, there is a controversy and the polarized sides are miles apart—even the experts disagree on this topic. So let’s lay down the basic pros and cons of kissing your child on the lips and discuss when and if you might consider stopping.
Cultural and Familial Traditions of Kissing and Showing Affection
I’ve met people from all over the globe, and opinions about how to express affection are truly diverse. There are families that kiss on the cheeks, some who kiss on the lips, and others who barely show any affection.
Yes, I kissed my daughter on her lips when she was younger. I’d often include a giant hug along with the kiss I give her. Likewise, when I was young, my parents kissed my lips and I felt loved and appreciated. In my country, we show respect and affection by putting the hand of the older person on our foreheads. We refer to this as "mano," which means hand in Spanish. This gesture is a particularly fundamental cultural expectation in our society.
I went to school with the same group starting in kindergarten, so by the time we were in high school, we were comfortable sitting quite close to our classmates. As friends, we greeted each other with a peck on the cheek and it did not bother us. However, this was a little much for other students who did not grow up with us. But the point is, we formed a bond and we showed our affection this way. We separated affection from attraction, so the kiss was purely platonic.
One of my nieces kissed her aunts on the lips; it was a non-event. It was so usual that no one thought twice about it. In contrast, I’ve observed people stare in awe if they see parents kissing their kids on the lips. They had a judgemental look on their faces and they did not hide their dismay. Yes, there are those who believe that kissing their child on the lips is taboo.
Every culture has its own way of showing affection. As such, we must respect this diversity and not impose our own beliefs on other people. Obviously, some of these cultural differences do not appeal to others. One group regards kissing their children’s lips as acceptable while another considers it offensive.
Kissing Our Children on the Lips Has Its Benefits
Intimacy strengthens the bond between parent and child. Physical gestures like kissing, hugging, and even tickling are ways to show your closeness. A 2017 study by Allen K Sabey et.al. explored how physical affection benefits both parents and children. The study also showed the need for parents’ sensitivity to their children’s expression of love.
In addition, Dr. Paula Barry from Penn Family and Internal Medicine Longwood said that physical intimacies like hugging and kissing help establish connections, bonds, and trust. Dr. Barry also said that the oxytocin produced during these intimate encounters improves the resting heart rate of individuals.
Kissing your child provides both physical and emotional benefits. Perhaps you have other reasons why you kiss your child on the lips.
Studies About the Effect of Affection on Children
Many significant studies have shown the positive effects of physical affection. Studies show that those who experience positive touch early in life (including holding, hugging, and kissing) also report. . .
High Self Esteem and Higher Academic Performance. An article published by the Gottman Institute reports "Higher self-esteem, improved academic performance, better parent-child communication, and fewer psychological and behavior problems" for those who enjoy positive touch early in life and those who don't report lower self esteem, alienation, hostility, aggression, and anti-social sentiments.
Better Self-Esteem and Stronger Relationships. Many studies have shown that positive touch early in life is associated with later development of self-esteem, satisfaction, and social competence (Harms and Clifford 1980; Endsley and Bradbard 1981; Deethardt and Hines 1983; Scarr 1984; Field et al. 1986; Fromme et al. 1989; Jones and Brown 1996)
Less Depression and More Romantic Satisfaction. Those who experienced positive touch during childhood later reported less depression and more satisfaction with romantic relationships (Takeuchi et al. 2010).
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More Happiness, Less Anxiety. A 2010 study by Duke University Medical School and a 2015 study at the University of Notre Dame found that babies whose mothers were expressively affectionate grew to be happier, less anxious, and less likely to experience feelings of hostility or social distress later in life.
More Satisfaction in Life. A 2017 Harvard study found that those who had warm, physically affectionate parents in childhood later reported more satisfaction with life.
Is Kissing Our Children on the Lips Inappropriate?
Is kissing controversial? In a controversial interview with the Sun, psychologist Charlotte Reznick said that we should not kiss our kids on the lips. She argued that the lips and mouth are personal and private areas of a person. She claimed that kissing on the lips and mouth sends signals to the child that sexual abuse is acceptable and that allowing people to invade this personal space will be detrimental in the long run. She said that too much physical affection desensitizes children to this extremely personal and intimate behavior so that they eventually let other people invade their privacy. Many experts subsequently weighed in on the subject to disagree and the original interview has been removed, but the controversy remains.
Is kissing healthy? Another reason why people find kissing improper is due to health reasons. The mouth hosts microbes that may put a child at risk. Of course, diseases have numerous modes of transmission—contact spread, droplet spread, and airborne spread are only a few of them—but kissing children who do not not have immunity could be detrimental to their health.
Is it inappropriate? Another common reason cited for why we should not kiss our children on the lips is that some find it to be inappropriately intimate. Some believe that parents should reserve lip kissing for their spouse or sexual partner and that kissing is inherently sexual. However, many counter this argument by saying that lip kissing is not always sexual. For example, many allow their dogs to kiss and lick them on the face and lips.
Without a doubt, there are people who dissuade parents from kissing their kids on the lips. What is your opinion on this?
When to Stop Kissing Your Child on the Lips
If you kiss your children on the lips, should you stop? Here are a few things for you to consider.
When one of you is sick or has an infection.
It is wise to refrain from kissing your child on the lips when one of you is sick with a communicable disease to prevent transmission. Of course, everyone should observe proper hygiene at all times.
Whenever it feels inappropriate or unwanted.
There will be times and circumstances when kissing your child may seem inappropriate. Younger children may love kisses, but once they grow a little older, they may find it awkward, especially when you kiss them in front of their friends.
If the child is no longer comfortable with it.
Another excellent time to stop kissing your child on their lips is when they express feelings of discomfort. As a child matures, they may begin to think of kisses as more than just a way to bond with family members. Respecting this boundary is extremely important for maintaining trust between parent and child.
It’s interesting how a simple gesture like kissing can have such a profound effect on the way we connect with our children. A myriad of cultural differences, beliefs, and preferences separate those who kiss from those who do not. Regardless of our opinion on this subject, one idea remains constant: our desire to raise our children properly is our foremost concern.
Are you one of those who kiss their kids on the lips or are you one of those who do not? What is your opinion on this matter?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 JP Carlos