By Dr. Michael Oberschneider, Ashburn Psychological & Psychiatric Services
In 2010, Harry Connick, Jr. received negative attention for affectionately kissing his then 8-year-old daughter on the lips. Earlier this month, the Internet exploded in reaction to an Instagram posting of a photograph of Victoria Beckham giving a peck on the lips to her daughter on her daughter’s 5th birthday.
“This is disgusting” and “ewwwww” and “so gross” were just a few of the negative responses to Beckham’s loving moment between her and her daughter. Some responders even went on to further analyze the camera angle and noted that Beckham’s daughter was topless in the photograph (the child was in a swimming pool), which also appeared to make certain people uncomfortable.
So, are parents who kiss their children on the lips doing anything wrong? Are these children being compromised developmentally and emotionally by their parents’ kisses? Is a kiss on the lips between a parent and a child (younger or older) sexual or pseudosexual? No, no, and no! It’s perfectly fine to kiss your child on the lips, on the cheeks, on the forehead, etc.; affection is affection, and it should occur naturally, spontaneously, and wonderfully back and forth between parents and their children
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The anatomy of the parent-child kiss is not the issue here. In my opinion, the answer to the question of whether or not it’s okay to kiss your child on the lips has more to do with our perceptions and expectations than anything else. That’s because every family has its own set of traditions or norms, and even kissing has meaning within a family’s history and way of being.
Similar to how some people bake marshmallows on top of their sweet potato casserole for Thanksgiving while others don’t, or how some people will open gifts (some or all) on Christmas Eve while others will open them on Christmas Day, or how some people put ketchup on their hotdogs while others prefer mustard, kissing children on the lips is the same sort of thing where it catches some people off guard when they see it because it’s not what they believe to be correct and they don’t expect it.
Psychologists term this process cognitive dissonance — the state of having inconsistent beliefs, thoughts, or attitudes, especially as relating to a behavioral decision or attitude change. But cognitive dissonance isn’t really a good thing since it can lead to rationalizing behaviors or decisions and/or judging others. In fact, the best thing for correcting cognitive dissonance is to try to understand the meaning of your reactions and to be open to new interpretations for moments that are initially unsettling. So, if you are a cheek kisser, the next time you encounter a lip kisser, I challenge you not to fall back on the belief that kisses on the lips between parents and children are wrong to the more understanding position that the kiss you are seeing is nothing short of sweet and loving.