I live for my children’s snuggles. When they wrap their arms around me, crawl into my lap, or give me a smooch, I melt into a puddle even when I know it’s just a sneaky little manipulation tactic. However, we have a rule in our home that may be different from what other parents are doing, and an unexpected reason behind it.
Just say, “No thanks.”
As polite Southerners, we are expected to mind our manners in almost all situations. “Give your aunt a kiss goodbye,” or “Go hug your friend before we go,” are seemingly innocent phrases we’ve all been guilty of saying as we bid our social engagements adieu. However, where manners are absolutely enforced in my kids, non-consensual touching is not. We don’t make our girls hug or kiss anyone that they don’t want to, even if it’s someone we know and trust. Why? Simple. We’re teaching them consent. Our daughters are growing up in a world that expects so much of them as women, in both amazing and detrimental ways. By having our “ask first” rule in our home, my goal is to hopefully instill in them a sense of worth that doesn’t require anything from them physically and teaches them that others are worthy of their respect as well.
“But surely you hug and kiss them, right?”
Of course we do! However, we always ask first. You would be surprised at how often children will decline a hug or a kiss, even from their own parents, if asked first. I have one child that willingly gives all the snuggles and one that tells me, “Maybe later,” about fifty percent of the time. We simply answer “Okay.” No guilting, no shaming. It’s a small gesture to let her know that she does have to give us permission to touch her, and the people who love her will respect that.
“Have you always had this rule in your home?”
Honestly, no. With my firstborn, I loved to “fake cry” every time she refused to hug or kiss me because I so desperately wanted that affection. I found it humorous to see her lips turn up in a smile as she comforted me and eventually gave in. It wasn’t until my second child was born that touch became such an apparent issue. She has sensory processing disorder, and touch for her takes on a whole new meaning. Sometimes she is sensory seeking, and needs strong compression hugs or intimacy with me as a comfort. Other times she is sensory sensitive and prefers not to be touched, especially by surprise or by someone she doesn’t know well. It’s amazing what learning about our children will teach us about our sense of the world.
Consider these alternatives.
As I stated before, manners are absolutely important to us as a family, so there are several ways we teach our girls how they can show affection or politeness without hugging and kissing. We love a good high-five in our house or an enthusiastic wave. We also lead by example by cheerfully accepting others’ refusal to hug or kiss us at the insistence of our friends or family. A smile and a “That’s okay! It was so great to meet you/see you,” is a great way to show a nervous child you respect their decision and to put embarrassed parents at ease when they have their little one stuck to the back of their legs like a tiny octopus.
Every home and every child is different, and this is just one way we are choosing to educate our children about the world around them. Have you thought about how to teach consent? What are some hard topics you’ve had to cover in your home?