It’s seems so normal and innocent to tell our kids, “Now give grandma a kiss and hug for coming to your birthday party”, or “Hug your uncle to thank him for that gift!”, and then proceed to push them or maybe even force them to hugging or giving a kiss to whoever it might be. It never came to my mind before that forcing kids to show intimacy as a thank you or as a sign of respect or love (or for whatever other reasons we have) to other people is wrong until I read an article about it years ago.
In our minds we think family members or maybe even close friends have the right to be shown intimacies like hugs and kisses from our children. “Why won’t you hug your grandma? That’s not very nice!”. Do we want to shame our kids into showing intimacy? Because if we punish them or demean them for this personal choice we are taking away their right to consent. We are teaching them that they don’t have power over their bodies and that decisions about their bodies and intimacy are not their own. It seems crazy to think about this, especially if you are hearing this view of these circumstances for the first time, but the truth is NOBODY has the right or privilege to force our children to show them intimacy if the child is uncomfortable with it. Not even grandma. Not even mom or dad!
This is a separate issue from discipline and misbehavior. A child making a decision about other people touching, kissing, or hugging them is not a behavioral issue, it is a human rights issue. I am trying to say that a when a child is exercising her or his right to consent that it should not be deemed as a misbehavior and that if the child refuses to give or receive intimacy it should not be an offense, it should not be punishable, and it should not be looked down on.
I know I grew up feeling and thinking that grandparents deserved hugs and kisses, and even though I had no problem with showing my grandparents love in this way (at least not that I can remember), I still also remember feeling that I didn’t have a choice even if I didn’t want to hug and kiss them, and that it was expected from me. I’m not complaining, and I personally love giving affection to family and friends, (even other people I don’t know as well if they need a hug or a friendly pat on the back and if i know that both myself and the person are comfortable with that). I am just realizing what I want my children to learn more than anything and what I want them to use their whole lives: Their personal power and their rights as humans, most especially the right to consent and the right to feel however they want without other people negatively effecting their choices and emotions.
If you really love somebody and respect them than you wouldn’t force them to do things they are uncomfortable with or that they just don’t feel like doing. We can ask our children instead to just say “thank you” or to use some other verbal consideration appropriate to the situation, because really, that should be enough.
I don’t want to teach my children that to show love or respect to someone that they have to do things they don’t really want to do. The weird thing is that you see these types of situations everywhere, even in movies and TV shows. There will be a “funny” part in a movie where a young boy is dreading a kiss from his old smelly aunt or some other family member, and then is totally grossed out after they are forced or shamed into giving or receiving the dreaded hugs or kisses.
For example: It shouldn’t be considered rude to decline receiving a hug or kiss from your aunt Mildred, it should be considered rude for your aunt Mildred to expect or demand it from you no matter how you are feeling about it.
Every child is different, and you can’t say whether or not the child will learn the different social aspects of consent and the variables of sexual situations versus what our society thinks as normal “family or close friend” social interactions. You can’t say whether or not a child will internalize the idea that consent is not their own or anyone else’s and whether or not they will respect the words “no” or “stop” if they hear it from another person. It is completely possible that they might learn to feel uncomfortable verbalizing or become unable to verbally express their feelings concerning their personal consent and that they may find it harder to say “no” or “stop” to others. It is possible that the child will grow to completely understand when and where consent needs to be given and that they won’t have any issues with saying or hearing the word “no”.
It is also completely possible that we are setting up hurtful and damaging situations as extreme as rape and/or molestation. the reason this may be happening is because many of us might not be teaching our children from a very young age that only they have power over their own bodies, that only they can give consent to people touching, kissing, or hugging them, that they can not expect anything physical from others without having that person’s consent, and that the same goes for EVERY human being in ANY circumstance.
We have to show children that they are respected and loved starting with these seemingly small steps (not making them hug grandma or making them feel bad that they didn’t hug grandma for example), because ultimately they can make a big difference in our children’s lives and in our society as a whole. Children are people who have rights and feelings that need to be respected in all circumstances. It is our job to not only discipline our children and teach them right from wrong, but to empower them as people, and to help them flourish and thrive in order to live happy lives. One of the best ways we can do that is by teaching them the personal power and human right of consent.