Holidays, Christmas, family catch ups, a myriad of functions and festivities. A gazillion opportunities for your child to find themselves in the uncomfortable situation of some great old aunt demanding a hug or a kiss.
Adults have mastered the not so ideal art of behaving falsely…Of presenting a bit of a facade… Of at times going through social motions they are less than comfortable with.
I do not want this for my children. For many reasons. Some reasons are along the lines of preserving their authenticity and innocence. While other reasons go deeper; they are to do with bigger issues like rape culture, consent, no meaning no etc.
The reasons why I want my child to say NO to any unwanted affection
1) They are not pawns.
They do not exist to be used to make other people feel good. It amazes me how often our little people are treated less than human. Why do so many think it’s ok to use these little, innocent, vulnerable humans to make grown adults feel good. The number of times I’ve heard “Give Aunty….. a hug” and then to top it off, some added emotional pressure and manipulation, “Go on, it will make her so happy”!! Since when should our children feel responsible for making anyone else happy, especially at the expense of their own body’s autonomy and sense of well being.
2) If they can say “NO” now, they will be better equipped to say no when they are older.
Equipping them with both a language and a belief system that teaches them to say “NO” to any form of unwanted physical affection will prepare them for many situations. When my daughters are teens, in fact, when they are any age, I want them to know that no one has the right to touch their body unless they want it. Unless they feel 100% comfortable. May they never feel that awful sense of obligation to either demonstrate or receive affection that is not genuine or desired. Which leads into my next reason.
3) I want them to maintain as much authenticity as possible.
I do not want my children to think that you give away affection when you don’t want to. Or that you behave in a way that feels contrary to how you feel because that’s what some individual or society demands of them. Social etiquette on this occasion can go jump. I want them to be real. To be true to themselves. To feel confident and entitled to reject any unwanted affection. Always.
4) They will know I have their back.
If they are ever in a situation where something awful has happened or may happen, they will know they have my unconditional support. I will believe them. I will advocate for them. I will stand beside them. I will go into battle for them if necessary. They will never think that I would suggest they do anything they do not want to do for the sake of somebody else.
5) Not even tickles.
I remember reading once that predator types will often weasel their way in by creating the impression within a child’s mind that they are allowed to touch their body. A tickle seems innocent. But imagine, from a child’s perspective… Here is an adult touching them in a way they don’t like and their caregivers, protectors, trusted family members are saying nothing – it must be ok, this person must be permitted to touch their body. Obviously much of the time a tickle is innocent. But I will still say something. I will still call out “say ‘STOP’ if you don’t want it honey, it’s ok to say no”. It also sends a message to others, to any potential predator types. It says I’m aware, I will notice and I won’t ignore it.
I was so proud of our little almost 3 year old girl the other day. As I entered the room I heard her telling someone to let go of her. They didn’t and proceeded to tickle her. A barrage of words were literally about to come flying out of my mouth in her defence, when she loudly declared “I SAID, let go of me with BOTH of your arms”. Then she ran over to me and in front of the person relayed the incident, not hiding an ounce of her displeasure.
6) There will be no guilt.
I don’t want my children to feel guilty for being true to themselves. For listening to their inner voice. For tuning into an instinct that alerts them to something that feels uncomfortable or unsafe. That very instinct may well be what saves them one day.
7) Perpetrators are usually known.
Sadly abusers are almost always known by the family. They are quite often a family friend or relative. I get that no one wants to make any assumptions or think the worst of anyone – that’s fine, you don’t have to. But you can still protect your child. You can teach them how to create healthy pattens of relating and setting boundaries with others. You can teach them to advocate for themselves. To say NO without any guilt or hesitation.
What to say instead…
Obviously I’d rather not offend someone every time there’s a gathering involving greetings and social courtesies, but if need be, I will. However, it’s unlikely you’ll need to if you’re armed with a few options that are deemed acceptable by great aunt Betsy. Our common phrase is
“Would you like to say ‘hi’, give a high five or wave to….? “
Social etiquette box is ticked, your child has the choice of what feels most comfortable and no unwanted form of physical affection has occurred.
Under no circumstances or for the sake of anyone’s ego, will I allow my children to feel like they have to give or receive any unwanted affection. Our children need our protection. They need us to advocate for them.
They need us to be their role models. Over this holiday period let’s ensure that our children feel no discomfort, unease or obligation around family and friends. May they know it is, and will always be, ok to say no to any form of unwanted affection.