I Won’t Force My child to Kiss Me, Neither Should You

I admit. I fall in to this trap too often with my own. ‘Just one kiss please’ ‘Ok but I want a hug.’ How can’t we though? As parents we have literally watched them grow from their tiniest versions to who they are today. We have endured so much yet shared the best of our times with them, how can we not ask for a kiss or hug when we please, they are OUR kids, ‘we OWN them.’ NOPE. Don’t get me wrong, you are right about so much but as parents, but we don’t ‘OWN’ our child’s bodies. We believe because we gave birth to them, children are automatically ours, which is partially true; your genetic make-up created their existence. Yet, for the most part, our child’s body and personal space belongs to them not us as parents, and we must begin to respect that for a variety of reasons.

Looks familiar?

We also all have that uncle, aunt or grand parent that insists our child kiss them, hug them, smother them with forced physical affection. Then when ‘Tant’ or ‘Uncle’ sense slight hesitation from your child they insist further ‘kiss me and I’ll give you candy,’ only to to make the situation even worse. This is all too common especially in our Egyptian culture. What are we modeling to our kids and what are its implications on their behavior in the future?

We normalize that, even when children feel unconformable, physical affection is not only fine but perceived as expected of them. The problem here lies when we try to teach them about personal safety from becoming victims of sexual abuse. Why? Well, to our children, they view that feeling of being uncomfortable through physical touch is in fact common. That feelings is regularly experienced throughout their lives, so why make a big deal about it in other situations?  As hard as this sounds but doing so increases the chances that, if they become victims of sexual abuse, to endure their ‘gut’ feeling of being uncomfortable and not speak up about the situation. Does this sound far fetched to you? ‘How does hugging her grandfather lead to her becoming a victim of abuse?’ It’s not a stretch.

“FACT: Over 90% of sexual offenders are someone the child knows and trusts, and 30-40% of children are abused by family members”

smotheringWhen we force our children to surrender to undesired affection in order to show respect to the elderly of the family and not offend their feelings, we demonstrate that their bodies do not really belong to them. Instead, they have to always take into consideration how other’s might feel before listening to their own feelings. This instills a ‘people pleaser’ trait, which allows children to behave in certain ways with the justification of so ‘he’ll like me,’ or ‘so I can be accepted.’ By pushing their physical limits we teach them their body is to please someone else (usually in authority). So if you would like your children to grow into confident beings who can easily say ‘no’ or ‘stop’ in situations of stress, peer pressure or bulling, you need to begin cultivating this trait from now.


Yes. Every time this topic is mentioned someone has to ask ‘so what do I do when my mother asks my daughter to give her a kiss? I can’t offend her by saying no.’ True. Especially in Egyptian culture, physical affection when greeting relatives is seen as a sign of showing respect form the younger generation. We definitely don’t want family to get upset and that is not what I am preaching at all. Here’s what you can do instead:

  • Teach Manners. Being polite means treating people with respect, and treating people with respect can be displayed through several methods not just physical affection. Show and demonstrate how to give compassion through their words, eye contact or smile.
  • Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. Children of all ages like to know what to expect. Whether it’s in the way they act, behave or the situations that they will face. Tell your child in advance where you are going, who you are going to meet and how they can greet them. By mentally rehearsing with your child what they should expect, he/she will feel more in control of their feelings as well as actions in the coming situation. Talk about who they will meet, what they mean to you and what you will be doing. By also preparing your child, you are showing them respect by considering their emotional needs prior new situations. Children that are given respect first are more likely to reciprocate it.
  • Give options. When a family friend comes to greet your child, allow them the choice to pick from a set of options to choose from on how to begin the conversation, ‘Aunty asked a kiss from you, would you like to give a kiss or a big high five,’ or ‘Uncle asked for a kiss are you ready to give them a kiss now, or high five and kiss maybe later?’ By providing options you are teaching your child that they have a voice over their own body.
  • Get everyone on board. Tell relatives why you are allowing your children to set their own limits. Explain to other relatives the importance of teaching children to respect their bodies and follow their ‘gut’ feelings. There’s another up-side to implementing this approach, when children relatives find that your child is willingly cuddling them to talk about their day, they will know this love is real.

 “Children that receive respect first are more likely to give it”

We want to raise confident and capable children with high self-esteem who can recognize when someone had stepped over those boundaries of personal space. By allowing our children to set their own limits of physical affection, even with relatives, this allows for an excellent opportunity to empower them to be in charge of their own bodies.

3 Questions Every Parent Should Ask Before Loosing Their Temper

The way you choose to communicate, respond and attend to your child has a direct impact on their development. Parent responsiveness interactions are the process in which parents are positively present while meeting the child’s emotional, physical and psychological needs. Recent studies have suggested that rich parent responsiveness skills have a weighted influence on social and cognitive skills of children as well as facilitate in developing positive relationships with others. Giving clear calm instructions, exchanging warmth and encouraging confidence are all examples of rich parent-child interactions. Such methods of communication nurture children’s’ self-regulatory skills which help to inhibit impulsive behaviour as well as provide the according tools to cooperate with others.

Maintaining a balanced healthy relationship with children is hard. Children are constantly learning discovering their environment making a parent’s role that much more challenging to ensure they feel security and love. Their explorative nature more often that not may lead to power struggles, disciplining and several battles.

“Children like to be told what to do rather what not to do”

Below are 3 set of questions that every parent needs to know and ask themselves right before they choose the words they are about to use with their child, especially, during times of low temperament, disagreement and frustration.

  1. Am I in control of myself? Am I displaying the qualities I want my child to be: patient, respectful, kind, thoughtful, curious, and resilient?

parent controlThis may come to a shock for most but what I have come to realise with experience is when parent’s loose their temper and choose to use their ‘strength’ to discipline their child (whether by shouting or using slight physical touch) almost 80% of them have reported that this is when they feel weakest and lack control. This says a lot about how loosing our temper really plays with our logical reason. The less you are in control of your reactions, the less you will be able to regulate and guide your child positively.

  1. Is this going to strengthen our relationship? Will my child know that she/he is loved?

maxresdefaultSetting rules and boundaries is a necessity for children, however this does not contradict with achieving so with constant KINDNESS. It is a common misconception that in order to discipline, one must only be firm when communicating with the child. While firmness is essential, it is only beneficial to your parent-child relationship when coupled with kindness. Go down to eye level when speaking, calm your tone of voice whenever possible, express your understanding of their feelings, remind them they are loved are all examples of showing kindness that do not contradict with your firm guidelines e.g ‘(eye level) I know you feel sad because you want to play with your friends and I understand you wish you could stay longer, but it’s night and it’s time to sleep, I love you and know this is hard for you but we have to go now.’

  1. Am I teaching my child how to do better next time? Am I looking for long-term solutions or looking for blame and expressing my own feelings?

loveI left best for last, as I undoubtedly believe this is pivotal. A lot of the times parents come to me with the problem saying ‘my son/daughter KNOWS its wrong but still decides to go back and do it anyway.’ Sound familiar? Rest assured this is by no means simply because your children want to ‘annoy’ you but rather are seeking guidance from you. Children like to be told what to do rather what not to do. They like to hear ‘play with you brother gently’ rather than ‘don’t hit your brother’ or ‘walk slowly’ instead of ‘don’t run’ and ‘play in this room’ instead of ‘you are not allows to play here.’ What is the difference in approaches? You are providing salutations and guidance on what you want your child to actually be doing allowing them to form a clearer picture in their head of what is expected of them.


“I don’t know how to talk to my kids about children with special needs” Expert Christine Haddad’s kid-friendly guide on what to say

“With understanding we can come closer to creating tolerant, accepting and inclusive environments for everyone. Different is not less.”
A big part of my role as an art therapist and RDI Program consultant is to educate parents on the experience of their children. I do this for several reasons:
  1. I need them to understand the internal struggle that their children are facing in order to better cater for their needs.
  2. By understanding their situation better, parents will be able to support their children to reach their fullest potential and to find the coping strategies that work best for them.
  3. I provide the parents with a very digestible and clear description that they could use to advocate for their child and themselves.

“A lot of the times I work with families that want to live typical lives with their children that have special needs and there are many factors that may stand in their way. They might feel embarrassed when out with their child because of the people staring, especially in the middle of a breakdown. We all know that if for one second our own children did something inappropriate in public we would immediately assert a, “Stop that immediately” attitude.”

child downPeople stare, point and might even be judging parents of children with special needs for not being able to “control” their child, especially those who have no or little understanding about children with special needs. There may be adults who understand and can sympathize with those parents, yet children are typically curious and will most likely ask questions and make comments that, although they are innocent, can be very hurtful. This is why advocation is tremendous. Beyond being able to identify their child’s experience to support them in making better decisions for themselves, understanding their child’s experience can help parents teach other parents who will then hopefully raise a better educated, accepting and tolerant generation.

Below are some of the most common descriptions I use, for the top four special needs – I try to make it as kid-friendly as possible. Bear in mind that not one individual with a diagnosis has the same experience as the next and these descriptions are very generalized and tend to lean towards more sever examples. 

  • AUTSIM SPECTRUM DISORDER: List all of the things that you hear. (Cars outside. Electricity buzzing. The fridge. People talking in the next room. Your breathing. Your clothes moving. etc.) List all of the things that you see. (The screen. The ad that’s moving. Someone moving near you. The light reflecting off of the table. The trees moving outside the window. The texture in the carpet. etc.) List all of the things that you feel. (The phone your hand. Your back on the chair. The hair on your shoulders. The food being digested in your belly. The temperature. etc.) These are just a few things that you might experience through only three of your senses. Imagine you experience them all at the same intensity and it is really difficult to focus on one thing. The whole world is attacking all at once! Taking it all in and making sense of it can take a lot of effort and even more time. Listening to one person’s voice and making sense of it and finding an appropriate way to respond can be an incredibly difficult task. Remember to be patient and considerate of all of the stimulus that could be attacking their nervous system all at once.
  • CEREBRAL PALSY: An article I once found while writing my thesis was written by an individual with CP who tried to explain their struggle by saying, “Imagine you’re trying to tie your shoe laces but there are oven mitts tied to your hands.” CP happens when their is a lack of oxygen flow to the brain for an extended period of time in the early years of child development. This lack of oxygen creates a “disconnect” with certain areas of the brain and the nervous system. As a result, the effected nerves are incapable of communicating with the brain and therefor are difficult to feel with and the corresponding muscles become spastic (tense). We use muscles to move, eat, look, digest. etc. The extent to which the child’s muscles and nerves are effected can range massively, but always remember that even if their body looks like it can’t do very much, that is no reflection on how powerful and useful their brains can be.
  • ATTENTION DEFICIT HYPERACTIVE DISORDER: A colleague’s client, who has ADHD once told him, “I have a Ferrari engine for a brain, but a tricycle for a body.” That is a wonderful depiction of what the experience of a child with ADHD might look like! In our brains we have neurons. They connect to help us think, make decisions and absorb the information around us. When we are not thinking of much and we are calm, the neurons are connecting to each other less. When we are thinking about a lot of things and also moving our bodies, the neurons are connecting a lot – it looks like a laser show in our brains! Those with ADHD have really excited neurons and so a lot of them are connecting a lot of the time. This makes it difficult for them to sit still (because the neurons could be telling the body to keep moving) or to concentrate on one thing at a time (because there are so many different neurons connecting all at once). Being allowed to fidget or take many breaks can help address the experience happening inside. Consider them not to be rude or uninterested when their focus keeps shifting, remember the laser party in their heads.
  • DOWN SYNDROME: In our blood we carry our genes, they are made up of 23 chromosomes that are the recipe for who we are; what we look like, how big we are, our colors and almost everything else that makes us physically us. People with Down syndrome were lucky enough to get a bit more of the 21st chromosome in their genes. This effects their physical appearance, but not all look exactly the same! Having Down syndrome will effect the physical traits of a person, but does not necessarily effect their cognitive ability, however, cognitive and intellectual disabilities often occur, but can be very mild or very severe. One thing is for sure, no one smiles wider than those with Down syndrome!

Each and every person, whether they have a special need or not, has something important to contribute and potential to succeed, but they must be given the chance. With understanding we can come closer to creating tolerant, accepting and inclusive environments for everyone. Different is not less.

17671371_10154931864580225_246370483_nChristine “Kiki” Haddad Zaynoun MPS ATR is an art therapist who received her bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the American University of Cairo in 2012 and her master’s degree in creative arts therapy from Pratt Institute in New York in 2014. Kiki is currently working as an art therapist and RDI© Program consultant at Therapeutic Approach to Growth in San Diego, CA. She worked at Imagine Academy for Autism and The League Education and Treatment Center in NYC as well as the Advance Society and the Learning Resource Center in Cairo, Egypt where she practiced art therapy and DIR® Floortime therapy with children and their parents with a wide range of special needs of ages 2 to 30. Kiki features in “Art Therapy: The Movie”, a documentary about art therapy across the globe and has written a chapter in the upcoming book “Art Therapy in the Middle East”. Kiki has 10+ of experience supporting those with special needs, which she is immensely passionate for. But also loves art, music, traveling and reading!

Why you should STOP saying ‘Clean up your room’ to your preschooler

Lets talk about behavior and why we want our children to ‘behave’. Recent concerns on behavior are mostly around children being ‘stubborn’ by always refusing to follow given tasks, acting-out, tantrums and the list goes on.

When your just about to tell your child to do something, I urge you to stop, reflect and ask yourself, ‘is my child developmentally capable to complete this task? Do they understand what it is I’m asking for exactly? Are we asking our children to over-achieve their developmental age? We ask our 2-4 year olds to clean up their room, brush their teeth and to put on their clothes, so that way we are teaching them how to be ‘responsible’ and ‘independent.’ Yet, usually, these requests are always replied with a firm, ‘No!.’ Why is that? Sometimes what we ask can be much bigger that what they can achieve, ‘clean up your room’ can seem like a simple task but for a small 3 year old it requires a lot of concentration, attention and completing several small tasks at once, maybe he’s just developmentally not ready yet to achieve that.

So lets look at the bigger picture, what are we, as mothers, achieving by asking our children to over-achieve themselves. Initially, once they see the task is too hard their immediate answer is ‘no.’ This teaches them to give up before trying. Asking them to over-achieve also lowers their confidence level by thinking they can never do anything ‘right’. By insisting on a task they do not want to do, brushing their teeth for example, you are teaching them that being responsible is an unwilling obligation rather than a trait they should positively look forward to. ‘So I should never ask of my kids to do something they don’t want to’? No. Instead try to break up the task though into smaller and more specific tasks to create an achievable goal as ‘pick up your legos and then the play-do’ rather than an overwhelmingly big task as ‘clean your room’ or ‘Ok so your homework is to finish this page of math problems, how about we start with 5 problems first’ rather than simple ‘finish your math homework.’

Try to turn the tables around for a second, think of your child’s needs before asking them to do a task, also, think about what are you trying to achieve by asking this. You want to teach responsibility?

  • Plant a seed together and explain the responsibility of taking care it, by involving them in the process this already increases the chances of your child to willing choose to be responsible.
  • Ask them to help you out while cooking (in a safe environment of course), let them mix the batter, pour in the water, sprinkle the seasoning etc.girl-with-apple.jpg
  • Delegate simple house and age-appropriate chores as washing the vegetables, setting the table or juicing oranges for example. This allows them to ‘help’ while fulfilling their need of belonging and significance when you involve them with you.
  • Encourage the responsibility of self-care by leaving them to brush their teeth on their own, feed themselves, dress themselves (if they can), if not then choose from two options what they would like to wear, pack their snack bags alone and my all-time favorite delegation, ask them to remember a few items on your way to grocery shopping together and emphasis it is their responsibility to find them and add them to the cart.

The characteristics of self-reliance, independence and responsibility are life-long that cultivate a growth mindset allowing them to embrace rather than shy away from future challenges our kids will face. Let’s stop asking our children to over-achieve, and instead help break down instructions into smaller, specific and achievable tasks while focusing on encouraging their efforts instead.

The Mirror child

Ever wonder why you automatically yawn when you see someone yawning or why you find it difficult to hold your tears back when you see someone crying? The mechanism that allows so are your mirror neurons- a neuron that fires in your brain when you watch someone doing an action, telling you to do the same. So by just simply observing another, you think and feel the same as the person in front of you when you ‘mirror’ their action.

In the same way, our behaviour and actions can directly affect those around us. Ever catch yourself saying, ‘I feel drained when I’m around this person,’ or ‘I began smoking again because I’m always around x.’ Whether or not we intend so but our thoughts and actions resonates on those around us and can create a ripple effect of the same feelings.

Knowing the magnitude of influence your behavior has, how do you think you this  might be affecting those around you? How about the influence you have on those that look up to you the most- your children. Children are exceptionally very good ‘mirrors’ in that they visually reflect the image of those they spend time with the most. If you are curious about your parenting style, look into your live mirror- your child.

parent-and-child-modelingChildren have the capability to sponge information, knowledge and of course, behaviour. A parent I was recently speaking to mentioned, ‘My 3 year old daughter is also scared of dogs just like me.’ Instead, could it be that her daughter see’s her mom shiver, scream and frightened with the sight of a dog and so made the correlation that dogs are scary? When you’re having a bad day, your child can pick this up through your behaviour and reciprocate it. It’s not that children choose to ‘annoy’ you on ‘bad’ days, but rather they’ve been seeing you stress, loose temper and worry, resonating anxiousness in them.

So what’s the take-home message?

  1. Model the characteristics you want to see

Be kind to them, show them how to ‘use their words’ when angry, demonstrate responsibility and leave room for them to mirror that too. Yes, we all may loose it sometimes and shout, yell or scream on a bad day, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t model good values after that. By apologizing you can model room for forgiveness, by explaining your reaction you can model that it’s ok that sometimes feelings are not controlled and by admitting you made a slip-up you can model a concept that is key for all children; everyone makes mistakes sometimes and that’s ok.

  1. Model the values you want to instill

Demonstrate honesty by saying the truth as to why his/her Halloween candy is gone rather than ‘the monster ate them.’ Teach respect by giving it to your child with simple phrases as ‘please’ ‘thank you’ and ‘your welcome.’ Encourage generosity by involving your child in charitable activities as donating toys or clothes together. Most importantly, model compassion, we easily forget that children reciprocate the emotions they receive, the more love we give them, they more love they can offer themselves first then those around them.

  1. Know when YOU need a time out

You need a break. It’s ok to say it and its definitely ok to have it! Parenting can be draining sometimes and it’s essential that you take care of yourself first before you can give to others. So refuel yourself with what energizes you to keep going; a warm bath, a coffee with a friend or hit the gym, whatever it is you owe yourself that!