“Did you hear the Girl Scouts are discouraging kids from hugging their relatives?”
My mom, eager for friendly banter about the latest news, declared the question to a room full of relatives on Thanksgiving as she left the house. My kids gave their grandma a big hug goodbye and I told her that we agree with the post: kids shouldn’t be forced to give people hugs. My kids are always quick to give their grandma hugs, but when we are around other relatives or even friends I give my kids the option of deciding how to say goodbye.
My most common way of communicating this is simply by saying, “Give a high-five, handshake, or hug goodbye.” Sometimes they choose to show affection with a high-five. Sometimes they choose to show affection with a handshake. Sometimes they choose to show affection with a hug.
The key to this interaction is that my child decides how they want to show affection.
Later, my daughter asked me if the Girl Scouts did something bad. My daughter is a Girl Scout Brownie and loves being a part of an empowering organization. She also loves her grandma and feared the organization she loves was doing something that her grandma didn’t like. I reassured her that the Girl Scouts was doing something right.
That night I went back and re-read the Girl Scout article about hugging and consent, and it made me think more about consent and how I can best support my kids. I was surprised by something I had mistakenly done just that day and the article reminded me about it: when my kids were opening presents from their cousins, I told them to walk around and give hugs and thank yous. While I’m usually great about consent when it comes to greetings and goodbyes, I wasn’t extending that same value when it came to gifts.
I was particularly struck by the following quote from the post:
“Think of it this way, telling your child that she owes someone a hug either just because she hasn’t seen this person in a while or because they gave her a gift can set the stage for her questioning whether she “owes” another person any type of physical affection when they’ve bought her dinner or done something else seemingly nice for her later in life.”
As parents, we want to teach our kids to have ownership of their own bodies. We teach them the proper names for body parts. We review safe touch and discuss practices for when touch is inappropriate. We encourage them to find their own style, love their body and be confident in their skin. Giving them information and options for affection and consent is part of these lessons and teaching them how to establish boundaries.
It’s great to give your child options when it comes to affection. It is also a good reminder for us as adults that when we interact with other people’s children we maintain this value of consent and offer options to interact, knowing that a fist bump or a hug is just as good of a way to make a greeting or show appreciation.
Our kids depend on us to teach them about body confidence and respect. Protecting their right to consent is part of this process. Admittedly, it is hard to have these conversations with relatives and friends. It is breaking a practice that seems like such a social norm, it feels awkward to even mention. However, when I think of awkward, I remember how upset my stomach would get when I was a kid and was made to sit on the lap of one of my relatives and be tickled.
We need to have ongoing conversations with our kids about respect for their body. We must also show through example, even at holiday gatherings, or after thoughtful gifts, that they get to decide how to have physical interaction with others. Allow your child to decide how they would like to physically interact with others. They may love to hug, they also might prefer a fist bumps.
You can still have kind, respectful and grateful children when you allow your children the ownership of consent over their bodies.