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 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 that inner barometer, their INSTINCT…
a.k.a. “The Uh-Oh Feeling”
It’s not about being suspicious of every relative who wants to hug or kiss or our kids.
It’s about letting your children 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” about someone that you’re unaware of. Maybe earlier in the evening Uncle Johnny said or did something that felt “yucky” or weird to your child, which you’re oblivious to. 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:
Don’t trust your own instincts.
You have to obey an adult, no matter what.
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 yours
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 family gathering, he decides he may be able to go a little further with his behavior because you’ve basically laid the groundwork 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 Grandma or Grandpa hugs too tightly and it hurts. Or, maybe it’s something more serious.
Whatever the reason… your child should have the right to say No.
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!
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 Helpful Tip For Parents
If it’s a case of your being worried because maybe grandma and grandpa make you or your child feel guilty, then have a conversation with them privately ahead of time. Just let them know that you and your child have been working very hard on her personal safety rules and that you could use their help in reinforcing this important concept.
If we really want to give our children a gift… Let Them Decide How They Want To Express Physical Affection and To Whom. Don’t force them to, because it makes you feel better. And, back them up when they need it.
That’s the gift of a lifetime.
About the Author
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 every where the most effective, up-to-date safety strategies WITHOUT using fear tactics.
Admired for her positive approach and warm, compassionate style, Pattie has created her unique brand of “Safe-Smarts” which parents and children are embracing across the country. 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