There's been a lot of talk about consent and boundaries lately. For parents, this has brought to the surface a lot of feelings about recognizing and respecting the boundaries of their own children. It's easy to forget that kids are their own autonomous beings, especially when they're young. They require so much help, and so much of us, that it starts to feel like they're extensions of our own selves. But it's so important to remember that our kids have comfort levels and boundaries too, and we need to be better at acknowledging and respecting those. One way we can show our kids that we value their independence and respect them as people is by not forcing them to give hugs and kisses when they don't want to give them.
We know what you're thinking. But hear us out! Do you remember being a kid? And being forced to hug or kiss your weird uncle, or the friend your mom hadn't seen since college? It's not a great feeling. The thing is, when we give our kids commands like "Clean up your toys", or "Eat your broccoli", we imply that there will be a negative consequence if they don't do as we say. Regardless of their own feelings in the matter, they may feel forced to comply. Sure, when we tell our kids to eat their broccoli, we're doing it from a place of love and just knowing what's best for them. But when we tell our kids to hug or kiss someone they don't want to hug or kiss, who are we doing it for?
Most children are quick to show affection. To their friends, their loved ones, even strangers! But those affectionate acts are typically initiated by the child. THEY make the decision to show affection to someone who THEY feel comfortable showing affection to. When we force our kids to do it, we are taking away their body autonomy, and teaching them that they need to submit to adult commands when it comes to showing or receiving affection. Consider this: if your child grows up thinking that they have to comply with every adult command to give a hug or a kiss, they'll be more likely to to feel obligated to comply if someone with nefarious intentions demands one. We need to teach our kids that THEY are the commanders of their own bodies.
Does that mean we should teach our kids to ignore or brush off every request for affection? No! But it does mean that we should allow our own kids to set their own boundaries, and teach them that they don't have to comply if they're not comfortable. Give your kids options. For example, if someone asks for a hug or a kiss and you can sense your child isn't comfortable or interested in doling one out, intervene on their behalf and ask if they'd rather give a hi-five or a handshake. Don't feel guilted into forcing your kids to show affection. It's not rude, nor is it concerning, if your kid doesn't want to hug or kiss a stranger (or even a friend!).
If we teach our kids that they have the power to resist unwanted physical affection or advances, we're setting them up for being better equipped to deal with them later in life. Sure, it might be awkward when your great aunt comes to visit and your kid shirks away from a hug but offers their hand to shake instead. But dealing with the awkwardness now, and respecting your child's choices, is so important down the road. We want to raise strong, independent people who recognize boundaries and consent, right? Well, that starts now.