Teaching Kids The Power of Consent
Updated: Dec 31, 2019
Have you ever asked a child for a hug or a kiss, had them say no, then continued to try and convince them to give it to you anyways? Or have you witnessed family members do this with your own child?
What do we gain from it? What's so important in a child's hug or kiss that we feel the need to force it? Is a hug goodbye that important?
Now, let me ask you this, how would you feel if another adult continued to pester you for a hug goodbye after you initially refused one? Or, even worse, ran over to you and gave you one anyways, after you had declined? You'd probably feel frustrated at the fact that this person didn't respect you, possibly even violated. How can we expect children not to feel that? Are we actually trying to teach kids that they always have to provide physical affection to anyone who asks? Or that they just have to accept it when someone forces a hug and a kiss on them?
I'm sure if I told you we should teach our children how to say no, you may be a little shocked. 'No' tends to be a parents' least favourite word to hear from their child. I get it- some days I am positive that it's the only word in my daughter's vocabulary. However, there are times when it's absolutely okay for them to say it. In fact, I strongly believe we should be teaching them how important the word 'no' is. What are we teaching our children by telling them they have to give someone a hug even when they've already said no? We're teaching them that they aren't heard, aren't respected(regardless of whether or not that's the intention, which I realize it typically never is). What kind of a beginning is that? There are so many situations where they don't have a voice- what they get for dinner isn't typically something they get to voice much of an opinion about, their bed time isn't typically something to be negotiated, brushing their teeth, you get it. So, when there is a situation where they can absolutely be respected in saying No, lets listen, yes?
There's also the other side of this- let's teach our kids how to respect the word 'No'. I'm not talking about when they get told they can't have candy for dinner- it's a given they're going to argue that point (who wouldn't if they actually thought they'd win?). I'm talking in reference to physical affection.
Let me give you an example- everyone loves to see my kiddos show each other love. I'll admit, there's not many things cuter than my 4 and 5 year old hugging each other, or their little brother. However, if my daughter tells her brother she doesn't want a hug- you better bet I'll be expecting him to accept that. Sure- he may have his feelings hurt, but it's temporary and he'll be onto the next thing within 30 seconds. If my daughter is forced to accept that hug he's asking for- that's a solid 10 minute tantrum afterwards, and rightfully so. As I said earlier- how would you feel if someone forced a hug on you?
So this is what I mean by teaching them to accept no. I always explain to my children that if they ask for a hug, they need to be prepared to be refused, and that needs to be accepted. Even if that's from each other. Heck, when my youngest was still a baby and seemed to be uncomfortable with the amount of affection they were giving him- they got asked to stop as I took that as him saying he didn't want it anymore.
I've heard arguments on these points- I've had people say that kids should learn that they always give hugs and kisses to their grandparents or family members. However I'll tell you this- in allowing my children the choice, they're actually more likely to say yes. Why take this choice from them? I mean we're all grown ups here right, our feelings truly cannot be that hurt if a 2 year olds refuses a hug. If they are- well that's a lot less damage done than us constantly forcing our affection on them.
I leave you with this- the next time someone pesters your child for a hug, kiss, or any form of physical affection- give them a choice. Advocate for your child to have that choice, I promise you they'll be better for it. You're teaching them that their words are respected, and you're teaching them to respect the words of others. In a world of the 'me too' movement- let's make the difference. Let's raise a generation of kids who know when the word 'no' needs to be heard and respected- and more importantly who understand when they need to come to us when it is not.