Monday, November 14, 2016

Talking About Consent with Children

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It's the holidays, which means lots of get-togethers with family, friends, and coworkers. As both a child and a parent, I always loathe these for one single reason.... all the people that feel entitled to hug and kiss on my children. I remember those awkward hugs and wet kisses being forced upon my cheeks as a child. It was gross and made me feel uncomfortable.  It's important to me that I don't force my children to show affection to people if they aren't willing or comfortable with it.  Here are five reasons for my thinking.
Children need to know that their body belongs to them
It's tough being a kid.  You have to do what your parents say, follow rules you don't always understand, and don't always have a say in what your choices are.  What control do our children have over their worlds? We can empower them by assuring them that their body belongs to them. They have a say in what happens to it.  If this means that they no longer want you to keep them company during bath time or while changing and they are of a reasonable age to be alone in the shower/tub, than we acquiesce.
Relationships don't equal automatic consent
Just because a friend or family member requests physical affection, doesn't mean it's okay to force a child to comply.  Forcing a child to hug/kiss/other someone when they don't want to sets a dangerous precedent.  Abuse of children statistically doesn't happen by a stranger.  It's usually someone the child is familiar with.  By asserting that they "must" give Uncle Dave a hug or it'll hurt his feelings just muddies the water when another person close to them requests physical contact that may not be appropriate.  Our youngest isn't always so keen to hug her dad goodnight sometimes.  I can't say that it doesn't hurt his feelings, I know it does... But he is amazing in that he respects her choices. So we ask her if she wants to give Daddy a handshake, hug, or high five. Usually she'll choose one of these.  Sometimes, not. And that's okay.
It's okay to say "no" to physical touch
Human people, child and adult alike, should never be forced to submit to physical affection just to make someone else happy.  That's not how things are supposed to work.  So maybe Aunt Mable goes home mad because she didn't get her hug and kiss. So what?  It's much better than your child thinking that you disregard their feelings in order to please someone else.  This applies to tickling and other forms of physical play.  If your child says "stop", even while giggling and screaming with glee, then stop.  Because it's important for them to learn, even at a young age, that "no" means "no".
I wouldn't want it forced upon me
Think about it.  What if you went to an office party for our spouse's work and upon leaving, Hubby pressures you to kiss his boss (whom you see 1-2 times a year) on the cheek before you leave.  That would be inappropriate and likely end with someone sleeping on the couch, right? So why should our standards be any different for our children?
The bathing suit rule
The rule of our house: If your bathing suit covers it, no one (except a parent or doctor) needs to see or touch it. And even then, it needs to be with an explanation and because of a reason. The PANTS Project has some great information and talking points on their website.
So that's that.  I don't know that I worded this post right.  I'm not trying to be preachy or to stand on a soapbox.  I just want our kids to be safe.  It can be an ugly, scary world. Parenting in today's society is harder than ever.  So, if you've not ever considered these points, maybe it's given you something to mull over.  If you have, perhaps it will give you some validation that you aren't the only one.

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