Should You Kiss Your Kids on the Lips?

Jennifer O'Neill
·Writer
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(Photo: Getty Images/Mark Mann)

They have the power to heal boo-boos, and the ability to turn a frown upside down and show someone that they are loved. Kisses are magical to kids. So why is there still so much debate about whether it’s appropriate for parents’ pecks to land on their children’s lips? 

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Nearly five years ago, an article in the Stir about singer Harry Connick Jr. giving his then-8-year-old daughter a kiss urged parents to stop smooching their kids lip-to-lip. Today, the debate still continues, with each wave of new parents examining the issue all over again, year after year. (The question of when to stop if you do kiss on the lips got reignited in a big way this winter, too, after Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick’s celebratory lip lock with his 30-year-old daughter prompted immediate outrage online). 

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“If you start kissing your kids on the lips, when do you stop?” Dr. Charlotte Reznick, an associate clinical professor of psychology at the University of California Los Angeles, questioned in that provocative Stir piece. Calling out the beginning of sexual awareness around age 5, Reznick is quoted as insisting, “The kiss on the lips can be stimulating…It’s just too confusing. If mommy kisses daddy on the mouth and vice versa, what does that mean when I, a little girl or boy, kiss my parent on the mouth?…If I had to answer when to stop kissing your kids on the lips, it would be now." 

Yet experts tell Yahoo Parenting that a kiss is just a kiss, and that moms and dads who want to plant one their kids’ lips shouldn’t sweat it — unless their child stops being receptive to it. “Parents and children are intuitively connected,” Proactive Parenting coach Sharon Silver tells Yahoo Parenting. “If one or the other feels weird about kissing on the lips then it’s time to stop, no big deal. “We have become trained to be on the lookout for sexual abuse around every bend, and rightfully so, but a normal non-sexual intuitive touch point between parent and child is just that — normal." 

Family therapist Dr. Paul Hokemeyer agrees and has told Yahoo Parenting in the past, “It’s important that parents keep and maintain boundaries with their children, certainly, but in terms of expressing affection this feels within the realm of normal.” Parents and kids’ lip kisses are standard practice in many cultures, he adds, noting though that in America, “People who are in the upper class are typically more reserved and kiss on the cheek or hug or shake hands. They are not as demonstrative.” 

That practice has been called “instinctual” by Cup of Jo blogger Joanna Goddard, who dedicated a post about how her English grandfather taught her, “A man should kiss his father on the forehead, kiss his friends and family on the cheek, and kiss his wife on the lips.” 

Mothers and fathers weighing in on those ideas call out family tradition as a big reason why, or why not, to pucker up. “I think it is just a family preference likely based on the way your family was when you were a child,” writes one commenter in a Yahoo Answers thread on the topic. “My family is not lip kissers and never has been but my ex husband’s is. My whole family thought it was weird that they still lip kissed into adulthood and it just seems really odd and inappropriate to us. [But] after our child was born, I got in on it and now I don’t think of it as weird anymore…It is just another one of many ways to show affection to your child.” 

And make no mistake, affection is important for children, because it has lifelong effects. Research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health reveals that babies with very affectionate moms grew up to be “more resilient, less anxious adults.” Around the age of 34, those same individuals showed the lowest levels of distress as adults. 

So if you’re a smoocher and your kids don’t care, kiss on! You’re in some famous company, for what it’s worth: When Kourtney Kardashian’s son was five months old, she blogged: “I can’t control myself and kiss Mason on his lips all day long, kiss his chubby thighs and little toes. And his auntie Kimmie can’t resist her Mason kissing either. She basically makes out with him!” 

Still on the fence? Consider this: When Redbook asked proud lip locker Jessica Alba about criticism over mouth-to-mouth kissing with her daughters, Honor, 6, and Haven, 3, the actress blasted, “Really?! Why?! It’s your baby. People allow dogs to lick at their mouths.” Touché.

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