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  • Writer's pictureThe M Word Consulting



The many gatherings of family and friends during the holiday season give parents a special chance to teach their children an empowering lesson: you don't owe anyone your physical affection.

The ritual of demanding affection from children on cue is one of those tiny, everyday little lessons in which we teach children — especially girls — that they are to tailor their emotional responses to please others.

By letting kids decide whether to greet someone with a hug or a kiss, parents can teach the basics of consent and bodily autonomy as early as the toddler years. These lessons can have an impact for years to come.

Whilst the notion of consent may seem very grown-up and like something that doesn’t pertain to children, the lessons children learn when they are young about setting physical boundaries and expecting them to be respected can last a lifetime.

While your child must treat people with respect, he or she doesn't have to offer physical affection to please them. In fact, the earlier your child learns ownership of themself and responsibility for their own body, the better.

At the holidays, parents — and kids — can feel even more pressure to be physically affectionate than during the rest of the year in an effort to please family members or to maintain public appearances. But when we prioritise "social harmony" over the wishes of our kids, we're effectively telling them that "‘It is ok to say no’ — except when it isn’t." This can lead to children getting sexually abused, teen girls submitting to sexual behavior so 'he'll like me' and kids enduring bullying because everyone is 'having fun.'

Teaching kids about the importance of respecting body autonomy from a young age is also an important part of keeping them safe from sexual abuse. Sadly, we know that some adults prey on children, so teaching kids about consent early on can help them understand their rights, know when lines are being crossed, and when to go to you for help.

Of course, that doesn't mean that people asking for hugs and kisses are abusers or acting predatory; however, we still need to make clear to our children that if they ever feel uncomfortable, and feel that they’re being pressured to oblige, then they have the right to say no — even if it causes offense.

Allowing children to refuse hugs does not mean allowing them to be rude: Your child has to be polite when greeting people, whether they know them or not. By age 6 or 7, even shy kids can shake somebody's hand or wave or do something to communicate respect and care. Manners — treating people with respect and care — is different than demanding physical displays of affection.

To avoid disappointed or critical responses from those denied a hug or kiss, just explain to family members that you are letting your child decide who he/she touches. Personally, we have observed an additional benefit to letting our children lead the way when it comes to physical contact: when our kids cuddle up to my grandma on the sofa, her face lights up. She knows it is real.

If you found this information useful, please like and share! Because one child is too many.

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