In our family, we show our love . . . a lot. We hug when we are happy, we hug when we are scared, we hug even when we are mad at one another.
So, due to how our nuclear family is, my children our very affectionate. It is not uncommon for Marshall to give hugs to his friends and classmates.
There was an important lesson for him to learn at the library though. During open play, Marshall wanted to give a little girl there a hug. The little girl rebuffed, Marshall tried again, she ran away screaming, Marshall cried. The girl’s mother was embarrassed, grabbing her daughter to scold and make hug my son. That’s when I gently spoke up.
“It’s okay,” I said with a soft smile “please don’t make her hug him if she doesn’t want to.”
The girl’s mom seemed a bit taken aback, returning the smile before turning to her daughter and going to the other side of the playroom.
Marshall was hiding under one of the tables, crying. I scooped him out from the table and set him in my lap as he tried to tattle. “She just don’t understand me, she doesn’t want to hug me!” He cried as he curled into my arms.
“Buddy, you can’t make people hug you-”
“But I was being nice, I just like her!” He detested.
“Yes, you like her and were being nice, but she said no” I continued “if someone doesn’t want to be touched, you move on. Don’t touch someone if they asked you not to. Just like you don’t have to hug someone if you don’t want to.”
His tears dried quickly, I reminded him that mommy will always give him hugs and kisses, and he was back to playing in no time.
Bodily autonomy is such an import lesson for all children to learn, and it starts with these small lessons at a young age. Our words as parents are internalized within these little people.
Perhaps it is better for Marshall to learn the hard way that he must take no for an answer than to teach that little girl “just be nice”, “but he likes you, you don’t want to hurt his feelings” when her own feelings matter very much in this matter. I feel like it should always be okay for a child (or adult for that matter) to say they do not want to be touched.
These little lessons have been really driven home to my husband on the job. He regularly handles domestic assault cases, so many of them are repeat calls. Why do these women (and some men) stay in abusive relationships? “Because (s)he loves me! (S)he’s just passionate.” Or “That’s just how (s)he is, they don’t really mean it.”
Due to Brad repeatedly seeing the things he’s seen and hearing the excuses from the victims that he’s heard, there are a few phrases that we don’t say or let others try to tell our children.
- “(S)he picks on you because they like you!” This message is a universal one given to so many preschoolers through young elementary. It sounds a lot like the excuses given by the victims above, though, doesn’t it? “Because (s)he loves me! (S)he’s just passionate.” No, I prefer to teach my children that love doesn’t hurt. If someone can’t stop hitting you, you need to seek help in getting out of that situation.
- “Boys will be boys!” I don’t even really know what this is supposed to mean. Some boys will sing on Broadway, some will be linebackers, and other will judge both from a couch- boys can be and are very different from one another. I will say, however, that I tend to notice people using it more to excuse a boy’s bad behavior. My daughter is supposed to be a “lady” but for Marshall it’s “boys will be boys”. This later seems to turn into “You know how men are” or “that’s just how he is, he doesn’t know his own strength.”
I don’t mean to embarrass anyone who uses or has used these terms- they are as common in our culture as apple pie. Hell, I’ve used these in the past. But words have meaning and all of these frequent phrases that we instill in our children plant the seeds for who they will become later down the road.
Marshall might someday be close to 6’4 like his father. When someone asks him not to touch them or expressed their discomfort with a situation, I hope I’ve planted the seeds that will make him take a step back and ensure the person is okay. For that person’s good and for his. On the flip side, I want him to know that if he ever feels uncomfortable or doesn’t wish to be touched that it isn’t rude for him to say no.
So, no, please don’t make her hug him.