Have you ever tried to hug someone and they stuck their hand out for you to shake instead? Or, are you the one who offered your hand? Most of the time, as adults, we respect that boundary. But with kids, it’s different. Someone tries to hug a child, the child refuses, and parents will push their child to accept the affection. Sometimes because they’re close to the person, sometimes out of pressure or embarrassment. “Hug your grandma! Give her a kiss!”
Relationships are built over time. As a family member, if you’ve built a strong relationship with a child and they willingly give you hugs and kisses, you’ve earned that! But, if you’re long distance, or your paths don’t cross often, there is no reason to force affection out of, or on to a child.
I’ve been that mom. I’ve told my kids, “give your uncle a hug! He’s your uncle!” Or, “go give everyone a hug goodbye!” I’ve taken my comfortability with family members and pushed it off on them. Just because I would hug someone goodbye doesn’t mean they’re comfortable doing so.
I have one child that is comfortable giving people hugs. The rest of them would prefer to wave, verbally say hello, or shake someone’s hand. Which, I’m totally okay with. I think there’s a line, for sure. It’s definitely rude to walk into someone’s house and ignore them, but I think it’s appropriate for them to verbally greet people or wave hello.
Teaching children that their consent starts in these situations gives them the confidence to know that it extends to other situations as well. I don’t remember ever having intimate discussions with my parents about consent. I do remember a doctor teaching me about which parts were “private parts” and I remember being surprised. I didn’t realize before there were parts of our bodies that we shouldn’t touch on others, or allow others to touch. I don’t think it was intentional or that they didn’t feel it was important to have intimate discussions, it just never happened.
It’s important to go beyond the bounds of your personal comfortability for growth, but consent should never, ever leave the realm of comfortability. No one should feel uncomfortable being touched or saying no.”
When I was in fourth or fifth grade I had my first real discussion about consent. It was with a friends mother. They lived a few houses down and across the street from me growing up. Some of the boys in the neighborhood had taken to spanking me and popping my bra strap on a regular basis. I was too embarrassed to talk to my parents about it, and worried I’d somehow end up in trouble, so I never did. But, my friend spoke to his mom.
I was terrified when he told me she wanted to talk to me, so I got on my bike and took off down the road. Y’all. This woman got on hers and followed me. When I sat down in a random front yard, she did too. She told me that it was never okay for someone to touch me without consent. I cried because it was the first time I’d ever been told that- even though I knew- and I cried because I honestly thought I was going to get in trouble. She didn’t have to do that, but she did, and she gave me the confidence to speak up.
Learning that you have consent over your own body starts young. It’s not just about teaching children where their “private parts” are, or that people shouldn’t touch them where a bathing suit is worn.
It’s about teaching them that their hands never have to touch someone/something they’re not comfortable with.
It’s about teaching them that someone rubbing their leg or shoulders can be wrong, even if it’s not a “private part”.
It’s about teaching, no matter how difficult, that their mouths too, are their own. It’s about teaching them that hugs and kisses are not a required action when saying hello or goodbye.
It’s about teaching them that it’s okay to say no.
And, it’s about teaching them that when someone else says no, it means no. That it’s just as important to respect others boundaries.
A couple of years ago I created a PDF to help teach your children about consent. You can find it here. Holidays are the perfect time to learn about consent. It’s an opportunity to show our kids that even if the intentions are good, it’s still okay to say no. Not every woman or man touching or hugging a child has bad intentions, but if they feel uncomfortable, it’s okay. It’s important to go beyond the bounds of your personal comfortability for growth, but consent should never, ever leave the realm of comfortability. No one should feel uncomfortable being touched or saying no.
How do you teach consent in your home?