I don’t think I can recall ever talking about borders when I was growing up. It certainly has never been suggested that you have a say in whether others are allowed to hug or kiss you, and saying what you need has never been particularly encouraged. “Stranger Peril” was more of the message in elementary school; it was never about personal boundaries or your body or anything like that.
My son James is 9 now but as a baby he was always very attached to me and wasn’t too keen on going around other people. But other people wanted to hug and hold him and he seemed very adamant that he didn’t want that. The message from other people was always that he had to learn to be around other people and we had to get him used to it. I remember thinking: No, I don’t have to.
By the time James turned 12 months he was increasingly expressing that he didn’t want to be hugged or picked up by other people and I started to wonder why I was doing it. He was obviously uncomfortable. Over the next few years, he began to express himself more. He might not be able to put a sentence together, but he could say “no” and tell us what he didn’t want. Still other people mostly ignored it because they thought they knew best or that he was “just a kid”.
At this point, I think the conversation about child consent or what a child needs was pretty common. So when people pushed him to do things, I said he didn’t want to and/or wasn’t comfortable doing it.
My daughter Amalia was a different child. She’s three years younger than my son, was less clingy and preferred to get out into the world, so it didn’t come that early for her. But she’s always been adamant about people kissing her. Even us. She always says, “Oh no, no kisses!” As a parent I find this quite difficult because she is my little girl and of course I want to kiss her. But you have to follow your own rules.
My husband and I have talked about it and agreed that if our children have said they don’t want to have physical contact with anyone, we will verbalize that they said no and that they don’t have to. It’s about consent. Now that they’re older, we tell them, “It’s my body, my rules.” You can decide what happens and what doesn’t.
It’s also about expressing your needs and limitations and not being afraid to say to an adult or older person or authority figure, “No, that’s not okay” and knowing that your parents have your back.
In general, my husband and I are more reactive because we always try to let them share their needs first. I don’t want to say, “No, my daughter doesn’t like that.” Because who knows, maybe that day she’ll be fine. It usually involves stepping in really quickly and calmly and saying she doesn’t like being kissed. I push her away and ask if she’d like to hug or wave goodbye to that person instead. I try to make it tight and fast without making it a big problem.
Generally, people we don’t see that often, or less close family members, just have an expression that says, “That’s a little weird,” or look slightly annoyed. Most people say nothing or directly question it. For others, having to repeat yourself over and over again can become frustrating.
I think it’s really important to teach kids from an early age what they need, to understand their own reactions and feelings, and to communicate that. I see many adults not being good at taking care of themselves and putting themselves first and the impact that has on emotional and mental health.
Even in adults, the word “limits” can make you feel like you’re difficult. Actually, it saves your own time and energy and yourself. The more we can encourage our children to do this from an early age, the more normal it becomes. It teaches them to stand up for themselves. That’s why we don’t intervene and explain things beforehand. We let them say what they want and need. Then we will support them.
My kids both have food allergies so they need to be able to stand up for themselves and tell an adult if something isn’t safe for them. They are quite good at conversing with adults or teachers about what they need.
The word “should” comes up frequently in all aspects of parenting and life. I hear it a lot: “You should do this or that.” But why? Does he/she think it’s best for the child or are you just trying to make people happy or keep up appearances or do things that you “should” do? In my view, anything that helps your kids become more emotionally intelligent or understand that their needs matter is a good thing.
And encouraging my kids to be open about their boundaries and needs has had a tangible impact. I think it makes them more open and honest to communicate with us and to talk about their feelings in general. It keeps them from burying what they feel or need – whether they are good or bad emotions. And I think it makes them more aware of other people’s feelings and needs. It makes you more empathetic.
I don’t understand why we should listen to and respect adults’ opinions but not listen to and respect children’s opinions. Especially when it comes to your own body, autonomy or feelings. I wouldn’t say that you always have to ask for hugs and kisses, but if a child physically backs away, shows they are uncomfortable, or says, “No, I don’t want to,” then you should listen.
Every parent works in different ways and has different experiences. I know there are many conversations about asking for consent. I think sometimes that’s an extra step that people need to understand or go along with. My message would be: listen and respect what people say. adults and children.
Emma Amoscato is a mother of two living in Bedfordshire, England and is the founder of wearesmileapp.com, a mental health and wellbeing platform for families dealing with chronic physical health issues. You can follow her on Instagram @wearesmileapp.
All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
As Jenny Haward was told.
https://www.newsweek.com/i-wont-make-my-kids-hug-kiss-anyone-1705919 “I will not make my children hug or kiss anyone”