Considering Consent When Your Child Says “No” to Your Warm Embrace

This one’s a tough one, you guys. You run up to your incredibly independent, opinionated toddler to embrace them in a big Bear Hug and they push you away. You stop. You gasp. Your heart shatters just a tad.

You did not expect their Teenage Rebellion/Attitude to arrive for another 10-13 years, yet here you stand. Craving a hug from your ever-so-strong-headed-little-one who will not allow you to kiss their cheeks like you did just nearly month’s prior.

It’s a hard pill to swallow, but one we must respect. There’s been a major shift in society’s discussion regarding consent and respecting other’s body language. This begins as early as infancy.

Yes, even when your toddler pushes their own mother away from them yelling, “No hug!” we must respect their No’s.

If you’ve read this far and you’re slightly rolling your eyes at the idea that your two year old can identify their feelings and navigate their decisions based on said feelings, you need to reflect on some of your own, personal experiences.

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Had you ever been young, pressured to give your parent’s friend a kiss on the cheek goodbye but really did not want to? Did your heart ever sink the moment you knew you had to give Aunt Carol a hug hello knowing she hadn’t showered yet that day and it made you uncomfortable to imagine how disappointed she’d be if you chose not to curl up underneath those sweaty arm pits? Well, let me tell you something: you are not responsible for other’s reactions to your decisions. When you literally say “no” or suggest your disapproval through body language, you’re essentially telling others how you want to be treated. This is important. This is an incredibly imperative lesson to teach your young ones from day one.

You cannot control others around you, and if you believe you can sway your little one into a hug or kiss you’re essentially conditioning them to accept peer pressure. I know, that seems a little intense; though consider it for one moment. Consider how you personally feel when you consider other’s feelings and you make a decision, whether it’s a hug goodbye or accepting a job you truly did not want to do. Whether you regret your choice or not, you have compromised your own feelings. You deserve better than that- at any age.

Let me now put emphasise to encourage our children to ask permission, as well. As parents, as mothers, we must stress the importance of consent. How do we do this? We will do this by asking permission ourselves. Before each hug or kiss, let’s ask for our child’s consent. It’s simple: if we do this they will return the favour. It will become second nature and consent will be practiced on the playground, in their school, around friends and at parties when they’re much older.

The goal here is to learn how to respect other’s decisions and opinions. We’re not all the same and we all have different comfort levels. That’s ok. We all do not have to feel the same way. We deserve to have our needs met. But, not if it compromises the other individual involved.

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We live in a day and age where many of us strive for instant gratification. This can even be applied to the way we desire human connection, physical touch. A hug can go a long way, but it is not appropriate to force someone into an embrace that is unwanted.

I understand this thought may come across as repetitive, but it’s because we must be repetitive. This practice should begin the moment your child can express their feelings. It does not begin the moment they become verbal.

Take into consideration that in order to fully express how you feel, you must be either comfortable in the situation or comfortable within yourself. Meaning, when your child tells you they’re not comfortable with a kiss or hug, they’re confident in their own bodies and in their own minds and feel safe enough around you; the parent. That’s incredible!

So, don’t view your child’s strong, stubborn nature as a frustrating trait. Encourage their independent thought and teach them at a very young age that consent is important. Whether it regards consent to change your television show, asking permission to enter the washroom with you to use their potty or to give you a kiss on your cheek. Each and every day we have the ability to teach them the importance of consent. Don’t let it slip by in the early days.

Words by Mother Muse Julian Jamie

Images by Liz Rosa for print No.7 of Mother Muse

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