Never Too Early To Reinforce Good Consent Practice. I started to write in support of an article written by the Girl Scouts, but as I talked about it with others, I realized some people were confused about why you should let kids choose to hug grandma or other relatives. Why is it important to allow children a choice about showing affection with family over the holidays? How does this affect future relationships? Trying to answer these questions takes time and is more than I can cover in 500 words. We explore concepts like boundaries, consent, bodily autonomy, and other skills that don’t have anything to do with sexual intercourse per se but do teach lessons that affect choices later in life. It became a multi-part piece. Watch for all 4 over the next 4 days at 7:00 am PST.


The Girl Scouts published a post that ruffled some feathers. People were upset that this organization took a stand that seemed distinctly anti-family. The article included this picture and a headline that read:
“Reminder: she doesn’t owe anyone a hug. Not even at the holidays.”Never Too Early To Reinforce Good Consent Practice.

girl hugging legs wondering what is consent
As controversial as it seems, it’s not enough. The phrase “…and neither does he” must be added to this headline. Boys deserve the same support when it comes to this topic as well. This is important for both boys and girls.

Frankly, I’m surprised in the era of #metoo that this position by the Girl Scouts is getting ANY pushback. This is precisely the message we need.

Why?

My first Ah-ha moment about this topic was with my niece back in 2011. Before this, I probably felt the same as most people: How can pushing a kid to hug a relative have any impact on a kid’s future, let alone their sexual future? This situation was an eye-opener for me.

Never Too Early To Reinforce Good Consent Practice. My mother and my sister came to visit me, and they brought along my niece who was 16 months old. “Baby” (not her real name) hadn’t seen me in almost a year, and she was a little apprehensive when she first saw me (I look very similar to my sister). I squatted down to her height from a few feet away and in an excited voice said, “C’mere and give me a hug!” She moved closer to her mom and held onto her leg very tightly. I realized that at that moment this was Baby’s pre-verbal way of telling me, “No.” I said, “Ok, that’s fine, you don’t want to give me a hug right now, that’s ok. Just know that when you’re ready to give me a hug, I’ll take one.” My mother, standing nearby, swished her hand through the air and said, “Oh just grab her and give her a hug.” I told my mother, “No, she is telling me she doesn’t want a hug from me right now. I’m not going to force her.” Of course, 10 minutes later Baby was on my lap playing happily. She got a chance to test to see if I was a safe person and choose for herself, and no feelings were hurt in the process.

Young kids are learning how situations feel in their bodies.

Lots of people are talking about consent right now, and all of it can be both confusing and overwhelming. What does teaching consent to children look like to us parents in the trenches? Did you know it starts even when your child doesn’t yet have the language actually to say “no”? Holding mom’s leg and refusing to give a hug to another person is an example of a child exercising their boundaries, in this instance, choosing to anchor to a safe base. What message are you broadcasting by peeling them off your leg? Children are learning to trust themselves, you, and those around them as well. These lessons are stored in the body and are very important to their development.

I recall situations with my own children as they were growing up. My mother-in-law would sort of pout if my children didn’t immediately go into her arms and she would ask them in a mock-hurt voice, “Don’t you recognize your grandma?” I could never put my finger on why that bothered me, and then it hit me: it was using guilt to coerce my children into doing something they didn’t want to. Now I want to yell, “Come on! You’re the grown-up.” Don’t try to bully children to do something they are not comfortable doing. An adult is not entitled to give a hug to other people just because someone else wants one, right? It’s not cool. The message is the same to these little folks.

p.s., This might not apply to your child. Maybe your child is less nervous with strangers. Maybe your kids are older and are past anything like this. Maybe as you read this, it brings up something familiar from when you were young. I want this post to open some minds and even settle some unease for those who have felt weird when someone wanted to get or give a hug. Never Too Early To Reinforce Good Consent Practice. Or maybe open some eyes to noticing if their child shows signs of not wanting to kiss or hug a relative. What do you do?

Continue to Part 2: What Allowing Kids To Refuse Hugs Has To Do With Consent

About the Author

The MamaSutra

Dr. Lanae St.John is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sexology and certified sex coach with a background in sexology and a passion for helping people improve their sexual health and relationships. She is the author of "Read Me: A Parental Primer for "The Talk"" and the upcoming "You Are the One: How stopping the search and looking inside will lead you to your romantic destiny," and is committed to staying up-to-date on the latest research and trends in the field. Dr. St.John aims to share her knowledge and expertise in a relatable and approachable way through her blog on themamasutra.com.

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