In our family, we don’t do forced affection for our kids because our kids don’t owe anyone a hug (thank you Girl Scouts for sending out that reminder by the way). We don’t make our kids hug Aunt Sally or kiss grandma. We don’t make our children feel bad when they don’t want to snuggle up next to us or smooch us goodnight. Why? For several reasons. Because we are adults and adults, don’t need affection from children to feel valued. Also, it helps them understand that no one has the right to force non-consensual physical touch onto them for any reason. I want my kids to feel comfortable saying no and realize that when someone pushes physical contact onto them without permission that it’s not appropriate and they have every right to stand up for themselves with zero shame.
As a mother, it bothers me that 80 percent of all of my girlfriends have suffered from sexual assault, sexual harassment, and abuse. From being inappropriately touched by family members, teachers, friends parents, people at work; it seems as if there is no place in the world unscathed by this atrocity. As a mother who can also claim #metoo from multiple unwanted sexual experiences, this scares me for my kids. I don’t want them to go through what I and many others have gone through because it’s terrifying. I want them to know from a young age that their body is their own, they don’t have to freeze up, they aren’t obligated, and nobody has the right to touch them, especially if the person asking is an adult.
Family members might get their feeling hurt by your child’s lack of affection. But if a family members is pouting or feeling bad about themselves because their grandchild, niece, or nephew doesn’t want to give them a hug, tough luck. They are the adult, and it’s weird that an adult would get their feelings hurt by a child not wanting to give affection. And we know that 90% of sexual abuse situations happen by people kids know including family, so it’s a good thing for your child to start using and understanding their discernment when it comes to who they want to hug and kiss and who they don’t. You never know if a family member is conditioning your child for abuse or already has. And frankly, why would your child ever tell you about their sexual abuse if they always get in trouble for showing uncomfort when it comes to family or friend affection? It’s conflicting messaging.
As a culture, we have said that if we don’t give a person of authority (which is everyone older than you when you are a child) a hug or a high-five when asked, that it’s rude and disrespectful. How then are we suppose to teach them that their body IS their own and they CAN say no if we are showing them the exact opposite as they grow up?
As a parent, it can be embarrassing when someone walks up to your kid and picks them up for a hug, and your kid is wiggling and saying “nooo”! Or when grandma wants a hug and your child says “no.” It’s embarrassing for YOU because you feel bad for the adult in the situation and so you then make the child feel bad and say things like “go give grandma a hug” or “why won’t you give grandma a hug?”—or “you better go give grandma a hug right this instance.” Listen, you are the parent and their protector. If they can’t depend on you to validate their voice when they say “no” to physical touch, what does that teach them for the future?
There should be no embarrassment when your child declines physical affection from anyone. In fact, you should be proud because they are taking ownership and are beginning to learn that their body is their own and no one has access to it unless they give it.
Because let’s think about the effects of forced affection on your child as they grow up. Your daughter or son goes on a date, and the person starts to get sexually physical. Your child doesn’t want it but does it anyway because they have it ingrained in their brain that they will feel “bad” for saying no. Or, someone starts to assault them sexually and they don’t know how to say “no” because they weren’t taught, so they freeze up. The list goes on.
The last thing in the world I want for my son and daughters is for them to meet a Harry Weinstein or Dr. Nassar and not understand that their body is their own and that they can say “no” even if the person is in a role of power over them. Teaching my kids that they don’t have to touch anyone, not even me unless they want to is important to us.
So, we ask our kids “can we give you a hug” or “can we give you a kiss”? If we are rough housing around in the house or tickling or whatever that involves physical contact and they say “stop mom” or “stop dad” even while laughing their heads off, we stop immediately. We don’t ignore their “no” because we want them to know that their “no” when it comes to their body is valued and heard. This is one way we are protecting our kids from sexual assaults, and we are unashamed about it.