We’ve all been to family gatherings where our children look relaxed and are done up to look extra adorable. That’s when the aunts, uncles, and grandparents descend with hugs and kisses. While you know this comes from a place of love and warmth, your children eventually hide behind your leg, because it is all too overwhelming for them.
It is at this point when some parents give in and coax kids to tow the line– hug their uncles, aunts and grandparents as instructed. But when we do not allow them to listen to their own instincts, how are we teaching consent in early childhood?
A mum recently shared her own experience of teaching her daughter about consent. When her in-laws forced her daughter into doing things she was not comfortable with, she put a stop to it.
But her parenting technique was questioned, most of all by her husband. The latter even accused her of teaching their daughter to be disrespectful towards her grandparents.
Teaching Consent In Early Childhood: Why We Shouldn’t Force Kids To Hug And Kiss
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Sharing her ordeal on Reddit, the mum gave a rundown of the day at her in-law’s place.
She said, “Today was Father’s Day where we live and we went to visit my in-laws for the day. Originally my husband was going to let us (little one almost-two-year-old daughter and me) take him to breakfast but last minute he decided he wanted to go visit his dad all day.”
The mum wanted to time the visit when her toddler took a nap. But her husband insisted that she does the nap at his parent’s place. At first, she was hesitant, but she later agreed to it.
However, from 9:30 am to 3:30 pm, kids were at their grandparents’ home without a single nap.
At around 3 pm, the mum went up to her husband and told him that they were both exhausted and so they were heading out for home. “He was cool with it. The visit was great for the most part” she said.
Mum decides to speak up for her daughter
But here’s when the problem started.
“What was really tough was my in-laws and their lack of ability to respect my daughter’s autonomy. They know not to force hugs and kisses. I do have to remind them when they try to ask and [the toddler] says no. I’ve gotten in the habit of suggesting a high five if my daughter feels comfortable,” she explained.
The mum further added that there have been several instances when her daughter didn’t want to sit on her father-in-law’s lap.
“He would place her there and she would say no and want to slide off. [Mother-in-law] would then try to place her back and LO was clearly uncomfortable,” she shared
So she decided to speak up for her daughter that day. “I finally said ‘MIL please don’t force my daughter to do things that she does not want to do. She can say no to sitting on grandpas lap’,” she told them off, she wrote.
From the other end of the room, she could see her husband’s eyes rolling up. Later, he accused her of teaching their daughter to be disrespectful towards her grandparents.
The mum reached out to her netizen friends wanting to know if what she taught her daughter was body autonomy or disrespect.
To her relief, netizens came to her rescue and reminded her that she was on the right parenting track.
Netizens Agreed With The Mum: It’s Okay To Say ‘No’ To Grandparents Too!
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“You are teaching her body autonomy,” Other Mums Say
Some users blamed her husband for not caring enough about his wife and kids.
One user wrote, “He’s wrong. What you are teaching her is that she has body autonomy. She has the right to say ‘No’ and have that no be respected. You’re also teaching your in-laws that just because they want to hug and kiss and have their grandchild on their laps doesn’t mean they will get their way. It’s a great lesson for everyone. Respect other people’s boundaries.”
Another user chimed in to say that what her in-laws are doing “is exactly why girls are so hesitant to report abuse.”
Teach your kids not to ignore instincts
A user appreciated the mum for taking a stand.
She wrote, “This is such an important lesson for little kids. They sometimes have good instincts about people too, and if they’re taught to ignore those instincts to “be polite”, then it can get them in trouble later in life. As a child, I always got in trouble for refusing to hug or otherwise interact with certain adults, but I would never budge even when punished for it.”
“It almost always turned out years later that I was picking up on something like weird interests or mental illness. But because I never stood down, I kept the instinct into teen and adulthood and there has been more than one occasion where I avoided potentially bad situations as a result,” she added.
Teach your kids not to do things unless they want to
One mum shared her own technique.
She wrote, “My husband and I teach our kids that they don’t have to hug, kiss, cuddle with, or otherwise be touched by anyone at any time including with their dad and me unless they want to. The exception to this if it is something to do with their health or safety.”
The Reddit mum’s teaching consent in early childhood approach clearly got her praises from all quarters.
Unfortunately, she is not alone.
There are many parents who are often torn between ‘respecting others’ desires’ and their child’s consent. As responsible parents, it is important to choose the latter. Here’s how you can do it without sounding disrespectful.
Teaching Consent In Early Childhood: 3 Lessons You Must Teach
1. Teach your child to say “No”
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Explain to your child that it is okay to say “No” to physical affection, even if it is from people whom they may know or like. Remember, children have a strong intuition, which when let free, can save them from misery.
But in doing so, ensure that you tell them that they have you to fall back on and that you will never be disappointed in their decision. They should never try to make people happy at the cost of their own safety.
2. Teach them about alternatives of physical affection
Image courtesy: iStock
Hugs and kisses are an intimate way of showing affection. Educate your kids instead about using high fives, fist bumps, or a “Hi” as alternatives to show physical affection.
While some kids might love this approach, others may feel comfortable with physical affection. In this case, remind them to use their instinct and always check in without who may be more reserved.
Never ignore their instinct
As parents, you must never ignore your child’s instincts. If they want to avoid getting close to someone in the family, don’t force them. Give them their time and try to understand the reason behind their behaviour.
Don’t forget to teach them about the concept of good touch, bad touch. This will help them identify other physical cues.
Teaching consent in early childhood will help them in the long run, especially with identifying boundaries and will give them the confidence to express themselves better.