We teach our kids a lot of things, usually inadvertently. Our children look up to not only us, as their parents, but other adults, too, in an attempt to learn how to navigate the world. It's important that we model appropriate behavior and pay attention to how we interact with one another (and with them), to ensure we're sending the right messages. It's especially important when it comes to matters of bodily autonomy and consent, which is why I have a few basic rules for hugging my kid.
Gone are the days of adults picking up squirmy and struggling toddlers and forcing children to accept their affection, even when the child obviously doesn't want it. If we are going to teach our kids about consent, which we definitely should be doing, then we need to start early and remain consistent in those lessons. There's no better way to start early than to model consent in our day-to-day interactions, even (and arguably, especially) when our children don't really understand what consent means.
I understand that, to most adults (thought not all, because plenty of people aren't "huggers") hugging can seem like a pretty innocent thing. Everyone loves getting hugs from squishy, cuddly toddlers, right? However, as adults we need to understand the messages our behavior sends to impressionable little ones. If we hug a kid who doesn't want to be hugged, we are teaching them that, a) it's OK to do whatever we want to someone else's body, even if they are actively saying they don't want us to, and, b) that it's OK for people to do things to us if they want to badly enough, and even if we don't want them to. All that from a simple hug? Yep.
Which is why I've comprised a list of pretty basic rules for hugging my kid, that I'm more than happy (and kind of hoping) other parents feel free to use, too. After all, when it comes to raising our children, consent is arguably one of the most important lessons we can teach them.
Rule 1: Don't Assume
Don't assume that just because you want a hug from my kid, that he automatically wants to give you one. Don't assume it's OK to give him a hug if he doesn't want you to, either. Don't assume that because he gave you a hug last time you two were around one another, he'll want to give you one this time. Don't assume that just because you're family, you get to hug him even if he doesn't want you to. He is a person and can decide who he hugs and when he hugs them.
Basically, don't assume anything when it comes to physically touching someone else. Big or small, my child's body is his body.
Rule 2: Don't Force
If my kid doesn't want to be hugged, don't hug him. End of story. You don't get "a pass" because you're family. You don't a pass if he hugged you last time or 10 minutes ago.
Even if you have the best of intentions, and you just want to show my child that you love and care for him, you can't force yourself onto him in any way. You can't essentially tell him, "You not wanting me to touch you doesn't matter," by hugging him against his will. Nope. Not going to happen on my watch.
Rule 3: Don't Shame
I can't tell you the number of times I've heard people try to shame little kids into hugging them. "You don't have a hug for your [whoever the hell you are]?" and, "Well [insert whoever here] is going to be so upset if they leave without a hug," is so manipulative. Just don't.
Remember, you're the grown up in this situation. If a kid doesn't want to hug you, or doesn't want a hug from you, accept that and move on.
Rule 4: Don't Bribe
"Come give me a hug, I have a piece of candy for you," really isn't something I want my kid to hear on a regular basis (or ever, as a matter of fact). That's just creepy y'all. Like, "stranger danger" creepy.
Rule 5: Don't Guilt
"Aw, I'm so sad you won't give me hug!" Really? With all that (I'm assuming) you have going on in your grown up life, and with everything that is currently going on in this country, a kid refusing to hug you is what has upset you so?
Again, you're a grown up. As such, you should know that coercing affection from anyone, little kids included, is just wrong.
Rule 6: Don't Beg
"Please will you give me a hug? Come on, please?" Stop. Just stop.
Coercion isn't consent, and when you're in a position of power or authority over someone else (like an adult usually is over a child), you're using your influence in a negative, potentially detrimental way. So, I'll say it again for the cheap seats in the back: coercion isn't consent.
Rule 7: Don't Take It Personally
Just because my son doesn't want a hug from you in this particular moment (or moments, depending) doesn't mean he doesn't love you. Sometimes people just don't feel like hugging. It's not about you. It's not a slight and you shouldn't read anything into it. It's a kid being a kid, and a human being needing space (something every human being, regardless of age, needs from time to time).