This morning, my 4 year old daughter tried to get my 1 year old daughter to give her a hug. Baby A (our one year old) wasn’t having it and Honeybee (our 4 year old) was getting frustrated. “Mommy, she won’t give me a hug!” I smiled with so much love and gently told my beautiful 4 year old that her sister didn’t have to hug her. I reminded Honeybee that she and I had discussed feeling comfortable in your own space and that included hugging or kisses. If she [Honeybee] didn’t want to hug or kiss someone including adult relatives, she was not required to do so. The same went for her siblings. Honeybee stopped, looked at her sister, looked back at me and smiled. “Okay, Mommy”. When she hopped off the chair and went to play, her little sister followed her…and gave her a hug on her own terms a few minutes later.
We teach her that she can have charge over her own body and space”
Now, I recognize that this is a bit of an extra case with a one year old and a four year old, but it’s a relevant one for today. I think it’s important that we teach our children about intimacy, greetings, and space regardless of age.
I come from a family of huggers. It’s what we do and I LOVE that we do that. Greet each other at church? We hug. See each other at the house? We hug. We run into you at the store? We hug. That’s just us. That being said, I think it is also very important that our children know that they are not required to do so if they do not want to. As a child who experienced “bad touches” and negative experiences, I am an advocate of a child being able to determine for themselves whom they want to show physical affection to.
Let me share an example. There is a gentleman with whom my family and I are acquainted. He is a friend of my husband’s family, but we only see him at worship. He has been in various circles in our family for years. He is a kind and sweet man and husband who loves children especially his grandchildren. Most children in the area greet this man with a hug when they see him. Our daughter does not. She always waves and is excited to see him (she jumps up and down when she sees him because she is so excited), but she will not hug him, nor do we force her too. One day, he asked for a hug and she said “No, thank you”. He looked at me and I said, “If she doesn’t want to give you a hug, she doesn’t have to. We teach her that she can have charge over her own body and space”. His response was to turn to his own granddaughter who was standing beside him and tell her that she didn’t have to hug anyone or allow anyone to hug her that she didn’t want to. He then thanked me for reminding him to teach his grand that not all hugs are good. From that day to this, our daughter still greets him when she sees him. She has hugged him of her own accord once when she hadn’t seen him in many months because he was ill. I have no problem with this.
I love my children. I give them all hugs and kisses, but if they don’t want to be bothered, I respect that (the exception being that time Bug didn’t want me to hug him because he was upset his team lost the game. He needed that hug). I would hate to force them into an experience such as those that I’ve read where kids are forced to hug their abusers every time they come over because no one is the wiser.
Teach your kids to advocate for themselves as early as they can so that it becomes the norm and not the exception. It’s unfortunate that it is needed in today’s world, but I would rather be safe than sorry.