How many times have you told your child to always obey the grownups?
Have you insisted that they hug or kiss "Uncle Johnny" or that family friend or relative who visits every holiday, even though your child obviously feels uncomfortable doing so?
Of course every parent wants to make sure they aren’t raising rude, obnoxious kids. But it can be a dangerous message we give our children when we insist that they deny their instincts, and force them to be polite or physical with another adult, just so that we, the parent, can save face.
It can be especially risky to insist that they express physical affection when they are clearly uncomfortable doing so.
Because one of the most important things we can teach our kids when it comes to their personal safety is to LISTEN to their inner voice, their INSTINCT…
a.k.a. "The Uh-Oh feeling"
It’s not about being suspicious of every relative who wants to hug our kids.
It is about letting your child decide HOW they want to express affection and to whom, rather than forcing them to please others.
Because they may be getting an "uh-oh feeling" that you're unaware of. Maybe earlier in the evening Uncle Johnny said or did something that felt "yucky" to your child which you're unaware of. Later on, when it's time to go home, you insist that your daughter kiss Uncle Johnny goodbye, demanding it when she flat out refuses.
The message your child gets:
1) Don't trust your own instincts.
2) You have to obey the grownups no matter what.
3) Mom/Dad will not believe you if you tell them about an uncomfortable feeling or touch because you haven’t got the right to speak up for yourself.
The message Uncle Johnny gets:
Jackpot! Here’s a target — a child who’s been taught to be polite no matter what the circumstances. Here’s a child who probably won’t know how to resist an inappropriate touch or have the ability to tell anyone about it! At the next gathering, he decides he may be able to go a little further with his behavior because you’ve basically laid the ground work out for him already.
And so… the grooming process begins.
Clearly, there will be times when your child just doesn't want to hug or kiss someone. It doesn't necessarily mean it's because the person's a child molester. Maybe Uncle Johnny smells funny, maybe he hugs too tightly and it hurts. Maybe Grandma is simply wearing too much lipstick or perfume today. Or maybe it’s something more serious.
Whatever the reason… your child should have the right to decide for themselves.
Instead, what usually happens is that we're "on the spot", we don't know what to do, so we force our child to give a kiss and get it over with so we can go home already! Or we try and rationalize an adult’s inappropriate behavior even after our child tells us about something that felt "weird" or "yucky". Have you ever said something to your child like: "Oh, that's just how Uncle Johnny tickles/hugs/kisses." "Give Uncle Johnny a kiss or he won’t give you special presents anymore."
Blech! Imagine being that child, hoping Mom or Dad is going to help them out of this sticky situation only to find that you won't. Even worse… from now on here's a child who may question herself, not trusting her own instincts because she's been instructed not to.
A Different Approach
If we really want to give our children a gift … Let them decide how they want to express affection and to whom. Ask them if they want to kiss or hug a friend or relative.
Don’t force them to, because it makes you
feel better. There are other ways to express affection that don’t have to be as physical… a "high five", a wave, or simply using their words to say "Goodbye, Thank You, etc." And back them up when they need it. That's the gift of a lifetime. For more information, please visit www.safelyeverafter.com
Pattie Fitzgerald is the founder of Safely Ever After, Inc. and is recognized as a leading expert in the field of childhood sexual abuse prevention education. She is certified as a Child Safety Educator and Child Visitation Monitor, and has been working in the field of child advocacy for over ten years. As a former preschool teacher, Pattie blends her expertise as an educator and, more importantly as a MOM, to teach parents and kids everywhere the most effective, up-to-date safety strategies WITHOUT using fear tactics.
Her published works have appeared in newspapers, parenting magazines, and trade journals throughout the United States, and she has been featured on Good Morning America, CNN Headline News, MSNBC, KCBS, KABC and KNBC news as well as countless national radio programs. For more information, please visit www.safelyeverafter.com