The holiday season is upon us and that means many family and friend festivities. This wonderful time of the year is filled with laughter and excitement and reunions. While these joyous occasions are being celebrated, setting your daughters up for success for interacting with people is paramount. I urge you to consider how to teach your daughter that “no means no” and instead teach your daughter boundaries are important and healthy.
Parents and caregivers of young girls, do you find yourself saying…
- “Shake their hand”
- “Give them a hug goodbye”
- “Go give him a kiss”
- “Tell her you love her”
Giving commands to force little girls to be touched, caressed, massaged, etc.. without acknowledging they may be uncomfortable is irresponsible. I am officially done with that concept. Instead I am going to teach my daughters that “no means no.”
How to Protect Your Personal Space
Forcing a young girl “to be polite” is a fancy way of saying “you cannot say no if you are uncomfortable being touched.” This is setting a mantra in their impressionable, naive, people-pleasing minds that touch is always allowed for the sake being polite.
That being said, allow me to explain how I arrived at that perspective.
Take for instance the special 9 months of pregnancy. Why do strangers or a casual friends feel they are allowed to touch your stomach? I am currently pregnant with daughter #2, and it truly baffles me at the audacity of a stranger or someone I don’t know well would reach out to pat my belly because of my little bun in the oven. I feel my privacy and personal space is being invaded, yet this is seen as normal interaction for some. Rewind a couple years, and this is the same feeling I had when strangers put their hands on my first daughter when she was young.
How to Interact with Family
My oldest daughter just turned 5 years old and she has traveled the world at break neck speed thanks to being born into our gypsy family full of wanderlust. This is a wonderful lifestyle we have chosen for our family. However, a huge down side of traveling is seeing our families once a year when we come home for the summer. We spend two months going all over the US to see everyone one on both sides of the family.
Grandmas, uncles, grandpas, aunts, cousins all grab my daughter when she walks in the door. They all love my baby girl so much, but it got me thinking about when she was old enough and not wanting to be held or hugged. In these first couple years of summer visits, our families were virtually strangers, and yet here I found myself very embarrassed that she “rejected” their love. These people were family!!
Even though no one was offended by the toddler not hugging them, it spoke to an issue I did not grow up talking about enough. My husband was the one who looked at me incredulously when I talked through the way I felt affection to family was obligatory and polite. This conversation with him affected my perspective.
Since that conversation, my philosophy has drastically changed. I now believe my daughters should reserve a hug, kiss, and affection for those they KNOW. Just because my husband and I know them does not mean they do. The girls should have a healthy fear for strangers, even if they are family members. There should never be an obligation for any sort of touch before they are comfortable. The girls need to be brought up explicitly knowing that “no means no” and they have the right to stand up for themselves.
How to Interact with Cultural Differences
In our daily life, my daughter’s world is different. Between my husband’s job as a diplomat, and mine as an international school teacher, means she meets new people every single day. After 2 years of living in one country, she leaves everyone she knows to start over in a different country.
Whether it’s a new guard at our house, an influx of new military teams, going to a new school, or a new beach, she is surrounded by strangers all the time. This gave me even more reason for reflection on how she perceived being touched by anyone she doesn’t know well.
In August 2014, we moved to Mauritania in West Africa where affection is culturally acceptable. After living in Latvia for 2 years where people are much more reserved, the game had changed 180 degrees.
How-to Strategies for Interacting with Strangers
Our daughter is mixed (African American/Caucasian) child with a big personality; both assets and both dangerous. In Mauritania’s social caste system, the color of her skin means she is at the top of the caste. This means she is showered with gifts and candy any time we go to a store, restaurant, etc. Her natural charisma gives her a lot of attention and this attention was difficult to adjust to for me.
I loved the way she makes people smile and adults even fight over talking to her. However, the sheer number of people, especially men that expected her to hug or kiss them due to social norms was scary to me. We had to teach her that when strangers reached out to hug her that she holds out a handshake instead. We told her that when strangers said “give me a kiss,” she can say “no thank you, but how about a high five.” How rude some of you might be thinking, but don’t worry, most of the time she is saying this in French so it sounds pretty. 😉
How to have the Important Conversations About Boundaries
I think as parents, we think our little girls need to be more “mature” to handle topics such as unwanted touch. In this day and age, we do more harm than good not to have those conversations. My little 4-year-old was explicitly told what to say if a man or woman was forcing her in any way. She was told that she never has to touch/shake/hug/kiss anyone. Before she went to pre-school, we read and talked about books that teaching body privacy and appropriate touch.
We taught her to smile and ask polite questions so she can be just as charming without any sort of physical interaction. This alleviated my fears in a huge way and I know this is going to protect her as she grows up. We cannot teach our little girls that unwanted touch is polite when they are young, and then it is molestation when they are 14 years old.
Tools or Teaching Boundaries and Consent
We have to give them the tools to stand up for themselves when they are young. We have to be consistent in the messages we imprint when they are young. And we must stop forcing our little girls to accept strangers physical touch because they are “cute/adorable/beautiful” little girls. Darn right my daughter is precious, but keep your hands off! 🙂
Have you experienced culture shock with your kids? Are there difficult conversations in your family because of living somewhere different? Do you have different parenting strategies than your spouse? We would love to hear your stories.
5 Recommended Books to Buy for Girls Ages 3-7:
An Exceptional Children’s Guide to Touch: Teaching Social and Physical Boundaries to Kids by McKinley Hunter Manasco (this book is for children with special needs who may not be able to pick up on social cues)
Teaching Kids to Read Ages 0-5
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