“Come Give Auntie a Kiss!”: Cultivating Consent Skills in Children
Many of us have been there. You were a kiddo hanging out with the family and Great Aunt Bea walked in. All the adults moved to greet her with hugs, love, maybe some kisses. And there you sat, unmoving.
At which point you were noticed and one of the aforementioned adults walks over takes your arm and says, “Come give your auntie a kiss! Coerced into overcoming your resistance you reluctantly walk over, half-hug your aunt and scurry away before she can get her pinchy hands to your cheeks.
As clichÃ© and humorous as this situation presents, there are real issues at play and lessons to be learned. As wonderful and loving as Auntie is and as excellent a relationship each of the adults may have already created with Auntie, you didn’t have a relationship that facilitated a comfort level with Auntie that included touch.
It is important to show respect, but touch should remain at the discretion of each person, especially when they are children. In the above scenario, children encouraged to connect through touch without consideration for the child’s consent short circuits their own process of assessing what they want and what they don’t.
As parents we have the opportunity to cultivate consent skills in our children starting from when they are young. Giving children the option for touch when you can, modeling your comfort with touch and even asking for consent to enjoy touch with your own children, gives them the opportunity to explore their comfort level and allow for touch on their own terms.
Regardless of who it is, extended family, friends and even parents, all adults should respect children as the individual human beings that they are and assess consent before they move in for the hugs or kisses. That may feel impersonal or not honoring the intimacy of family, but honoring a child’s own internal compass allows them to foster authentic intimacy.
Instead of “come give me a hug, you stinker as you chase your kiddo around the kitchen, try “I would love a hug when you feel like sharing one with me! When you encourage children to mindfully consider how and when they are physically affectionate, it cultivates the skills they will need as they develop personal relationships with those outside of their family. They learn to examine their feelings and act on them only when they decide using their own framework within their personal comfort zone.
Not only does this support mindful physical connection, but also empowers children to trust their own instincts and self-knowledge. Giving children the power over their own bodies allows for them to practice the internal process necessary to assess how and when they wish to touch and be touched.
Encouraging children to make their own decisions about touch and then exploring together the decision-making framework they employ supports the development of a mindful process based upon quality thinking. Asking questions for exploration, without judgment, helps children become acquainted with their unique internal process. It is also useful for you to share information about your decision-making process when you are choosing to be physically affectionate. The dialogue created will create its own insights and opportunities for sharing. Some examples of questions and statements that may be useful include:
- “I loved that hug. Thank you! What made you want to hug me just then?”
- “I would love to give you a hug. I’ve missed you so much today.
- “It just feels so good to sit next to you and cuddle with you on the couch.
- “I understand that you don’t feel like a hug right now. I don’t feel like hugging much when I am angry either.
- “Sharing hugs with friends is so awesome sometimes and when someone asks if it okay first, it makes me feel good.
Allowing for children to practice skills when consenting to touch, giving and receiving, helps them explore what works for them at an early age. The more they practice asking for and granting consent now, the more comfortable the communication and the more nuanced their understanding of their own decision-making becomes. Respecting their instincts, trusting children to make decisions that are right for them and supporting them in exercising their decision-making cultivates consent skills they will use their whole lives.
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