I admit. I fall in to this trap too often with my own. ‘Just one kiss please’ ‘Ok but I want a hug.’ How can’t we though? As parents we have literally watched them grow from their tiniest versions to who they are today. We have endured so much yet shared the best of our times with them, how can we not ask for a kiss or hug when we please, they are OUR kids, ‘we OWN them.’ NOPE. Don’t get me wrong, you are right about so much but as parents, but we don’t ‘OWN’ our child’s bodies. We believe because we gave birth to them, children are automatically ours, which is partially true; your genetic make-up created their existence. Yet, for the most part, our child’s body and personal space belongs to them not us as parents, and we must begin to respect that for a variety of reasons.
We also all have that uncle, aunt or grand parent that insists our child kiss them, hug them, smother them with forced physical affection. Then when ‘Tant’ or ‘Uncle’ sense slight hesitation from your child they insist further ‘kiss me and I’ll give you candy,’ only to to make the situation even worse. This is all too common especially in our Egyptian culture. What are we modeling to our kids and what are its implications on their behavior in the future?
We normalize that, even when children feel unconformable, physical affection is not only fine but perceived as expected of them. The problem here lies when we try to teach them about personal safety from becoming victims of sexual abuse. Why? Well, to our children, they view that feeling of being uncomfortable through physical touch is in fact common. That feelings is regularly experienced throughout their lives, so why make a big deal about it in other situations? As hard as this sounds but doing so increases the chances that, if they become victims of sexual abuse, to endure their ‘gut’ feeling of being uncomfortable and not speak up about the situation. Does this sound far fetched to you? ‘How does hugging her grandfather lead to her becoming a victim of abuse?’ It’s not a stretch.
“FACT: Over 90% of sexual offenders are someone the child knows and trusts, and 30-40% of children are abused by family members”
When we force our children to surrender to undesired affection in order to show respect to the elderly of the family and not offend their feelings, we demonstrate that their bodies do not really belong to them. Instead, they have to always take into consideration how other’s might feel before listening to their own feelings. This instills a ‘people pleaser’ trait, which allows children to behave in certain ways with the justification of so ‘he’ll like me,’ or ‘so I can be accepted.’ By pushing their physical limits we teach them their body is to please someone else (usually in authority). So if you would like your children to grow into confident beings who can easily say ‘no’ or ‘stop’ in situations of stress, peer pressure or bulling, you need to begin cultivating this trait from now.
‘WE CAN’T BE RUDE TO OTHERS SO WHAT DO WE DO INSTEAD’
Yes. Every time this topic is mentioned someone has to ask ‘so what do I do when my mother asks my daughter to give her a kiss? I can’t offend her by saying no.’ True. Especially in Egyptian culture, physical affection when greeting relatives is seen as a sign of showing respect form the younger generation. We definitely don’t want family to get upset and that is not what I am preaching at all. Here’s what you can do instead:
- Teach Manners. Being polite means treating people with respect, and treating people with respect can be displayed through several methods not just physical affection. Show and demonstrate how to give compassion through their words, eye contact or smile.
- Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. Children of all ages like to know what to expect. Whether it’s in the way they act, behave or the situations that they will face. Tell your child in advance where you are going, who you are going to meet and how they can greet them. By mentally rehearsing with your child what they should expect, he/she will feel more in control of their feelings as well as actions in the coming situation. Talk about who they will meet, what they mean to you and what you will be doing. By also preparing your child, you are showing them respect by considering their emotional needs prior new situations. Children that are given respect first are more likely to reciprocate it.
- Give options. When a family friend comes to greet your child, allow them the choice to pick from a set of options to choose from on how to begin the conversation, ‘Aunty asked a kiss from you, would you like to give a kiss or a big high five,’ or ‘Uncle asked for a kiss are you ready to give them a kiss now, or high five and kiss maybe later?’ By providing options you are teaching your child that they have a voice over their own body.
- Get everyone on board. Tell relatives why you are allowing your children to set their own limits. Explain to other relatives the importance of teaching children to respect their bodies and follow their ‘gut’ feelings. There’s another up-side to implementing this approach, when children relatives find that your child is willingly cuddling them to talk about their day, they will know this love is real.
“Children that receive respect first are more likely to give it”
We want to raise confident and capable children with high self-esteem who can recognize when someone had stepped over those boundaries of personal space. By allowing our children to set their own limits of physical affection, even with relatives, this allows for an excellent opportunity to empower them to be in charge of their own bodies.