Teaching vs experiencing body safety: Why my child isn't "just a bit shy"
“Ok, it’s time to go now. Let’s say goodbye to everybody”, I say, picking up my toddler.
She nestles into my shoulder as I approach each person at the table in turn, telling them we’re leaving.
They move to hug or kiss me, reach for my hand saying how we “must do this again soon”, then go to do the same to her.
I rock back slightly, creating distance between us once more.
“Would you like to hug Tom, or just wave?” I ask her.
Over the past ten days, this process has been repeated hundreds of times - every luncheon, every occasion, every goodnight, every time we leave our hosts to travel to the next stop on our road trip.
You want to know what she chooses?
Waving and saying “bye” - 50% of the time
Turning her head away and gripping me tighter - 40% of the time
Hugs and kisses - 10%
My child is not “rude” - she uses “please” and “thank you” and is learning about taking turns.
My child is not “shy” - she is behaving in ways that are age-appropriate and choosing what feels safest for her.
My child is not “ungrateful” - social conventions aren’t a ‘thing’ for her, and she sees no reason to give her touch to make someone else happy.
My job is not to make her comply with hugging and kissing people when she doesn’t want to to “keep up appearances”.
To stop an adult who is totally responsible for their own emotions feeling rejected or “sad”.
To tell her whose affection is harmless.
My job is to help her trust her own gut instinct about what does and doesn’t feel right.
To give her practice, over and over again, of saying “no” to things that she doesn’t want to do with her body.
To help her know that her body is hers, and she never needs to give access to it unless she wants to, regardless of what they’ve provided or done for her first.
One day she will have a first date, go to a house party, have drinks bought for her in a bar.
I honour her “no” now, so she knows she can use it later, that I’ll be there for her if she needs to be picked up, that she can tell me about how she feels if she couldn’t speak up.
Don’t get me wrong - I love watching the joy of the 10%.
When she wants to hug and kiss hello or goodbye, the joy on both of their faces lights up the room.
But that 90%, that’s where the power is.
Will you witness it with me?
Want to learn more about teaching kids body safety and consent from the start? My interview with Caroline Ellen on episode 9 of the Motherhood Made Magic podcast is the one for you.
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