I Won’t Force My child to Kiss Me, Neither Should You

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.

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Looks familiar?

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”

smotheringWhen 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.

Don’t just ‘hear them out,’ actively LISTEN to your children

Children go through a lot throughout their day. They encounter new experiences, emotions and expressions all of which they may or may not be able to control. Imagine being given a new gadget that you’ve never been seen before. Does it send an email? Yes. Does it allow you to pick up calls? Yes. Do you know how to use it? NO, even though all the tools are there, you still need to understand the know-how of operating it. The same concept applies to kids; they need to be guided to use their own tools to regulate their emotions, thoughts and feelings. Active listening is a crucial skill that all parents can use to empower their children as well as create a caring relationship.

‘Active listening builds a ‘safe place’ for children to be able to go back to during times of heightened emotions.’

What is active listening?

Listening can take shape in the form of ‘hearing’ words and sounds and trying to make sense of it, or ‘actively’ engaging in the content allowing the child to feel you are with them in ‘their corner’ rather than just hearing them. Active listening allows parents to succeed in creating two KEY qualities in their parent-child relationship:

  • Develop good patterns of communication

This allows the child to feel valued, understood and fulfills their inner goal of feeling significant. Children that are accustomed to ‘active listening’ grow to be much more open as teens and adults when it comes to understand and communicating their wants, feelings and needs.

  • Builds emotional security

Active listening builds a ‘safe place’ for children to be able to go back to during times of heightened emotions or thoughts. Having this secure relationship is key to guiding your child to become confident, resilient and caring being.

Conversation 1

06-52-of-the-worst-parenting-tips-parents-get_strict-rules_528291794_ridofranzSon: I don’t want to go to football practice today.

Mom: Why! You love football, its your favorite time of the day.

Son:  No, nobody likes it.  The coach asks us to run most of the time.

Mom: Well football is mostly about running; you have to suck it up.

Son: He keeps telling us to run laps when the best part about football is to kick the ball and shoot at the goal.

Mom: Well you better learn to like running or else you will never get to the kicking part

Son: I still don’t want to go to football!

Conversation 2

Son: I don’t want to go to football practice today.

Mom: You’re not happy at football practice. Is it because it’s boring or challenging for you?

Son:  Nobody likes it.  The coach asks us to run most of the time.

Mom: It bothers you that the coach asks a lot from you?

Son: He keeps telling us to run laps when the best part about football is to kick the ball and shoot at the goal.

Mom: You’re really angry that your coach isn’t letting you do enough of your favorite part of football; kicking and shooting.  You would expect the coach to know that you feel that.

Son: I want to let him know I enjoy kicking and shooting so we can do it more..

Notice how conversation 1 ended the same way it began- no progression in child’s thoughts, feelings or emotions. On the other hand, mom in conversation 2 was able to empower her son to make his own decision, understand his feelings and take initiative towards his needs, all through the guidance of active listening.

‘Ok so how can I , ‘actively listen’ to my child?’

Here’s 3 steps you can implement straight away:

  1. Keep your feelings separate: its not you, its about your childmom-at-childs-eye-level

Children’s emotions are easily heightened and more often that not, they find it hard to understand what it is they are feeling and can’t seem to relate that feeling to the rooting cause. By labeling the feelings they might be experiencing, parents allows for clarification of the child’s needs, values and expectations.

  1. Reflect back

The main purpose behind reflection it so confirm that we understand what our child wants to express. Key phrases like the following help to achieve this:

  • ‘What I am hearing you say is…’
  • ‘It sounds like you are saying..’
  • ‘So from what your saying you feel ___ is that right?’
  1. Non-verbal cues

maxresdefaultToo often we forget that communication is not only through words but also through non-verbal cues as body language and posture. Here are a few points to consider during your next conversation to demonstrate attentiveness in what they are saying:

  • Maintain eye-level with your child
  • Allow them to finish their sentence; listen all the way through
  • Express compassion by leaning forward to your child, put a hand on their shoulder or hug.

So don’t just ‘hear them out’ ACTIVELY listen to your children.