It is right that we all have control over who touches our body and how they touch it -and as children get older, they need more control over who touches them, and in what way. No means no and more often than not we need to help children to have these conversations with others.
As children grow older, they start to shy away from hugs, kisses, and saying I love you. It is completely normal that they do not like to be touched in the same way as they did when they were younger. When children, pre-teens and teens grow up, they need others to respect their wishes around their body. It might not be very easy for adults to “let go”, yet let go we all must. We have our own limits on how we liked to be touched, held, or kissed, and I am not referring to the sexual kind of touching. What I am referring to here is how we respect children´s personal space and right to control how their body is touched by others. This could mean touching them lower down their back, on their bottom or being kissed on the lips. It will mean different things for different children, preteens and teenagers. It could mean auntie´s kiss on the lips at Christmas, a hug with a pat on the bottom – anything that makes them feel uncomfortable, needs to stop. And sometimes they need your help in identifying what is going on, and how to talk to other adults about it.
Now there has been a lot of controversy about kissing children on the lips – do it – don’t do it that is the question. My answer is this:
What does your CHILD have to say about it?
“I’m too old for that now.”
It’s very normal for kids to wriggle away from hugs, kisses and other “sloppy mushy” behaviour that they feel they are too old for or that make them uncomfortable. They might say, “Oh mum / dad, I’m too old for that now!” And there it is. Right there. That is them asking you to STOP. They have clearly set their boundaries and these need to be respected by all adults in the home and family. They will not feel comfortable saying it twice and nor should they, if you were really honest, be put in a position where they should have to say no twice.
No means no. Saying it once is enough.
While we know that you’re never too old to have someone you love give you a hug or be told how much you are loved, what they are doing is entering into another stage of adulthood. They are trying to figure it out – and that means getting rid of “babyish” behaviours they they feel are related to when they were little – and more often than not that means words and gestures of affection. It can be very hurtful for parents or family members to no longer be allowed to say or hug children in they way they have been used to. It can even make us feel like we have been doing something wrong. What needs to happen, is we are respectful of their wishes, and we stop. From that point on, it isn´t about us anymore, we have to respect their wishes around their body.
It can be very uncomfortable for children, preteens and teens to talk about how they want their body to be touched – or not touched. They feel extremely awkward having these conversations because:
- It’s embarrassing to even have to mention it.
- They want adults to notice on their own so they do not have to address it.
- They do not want to hurt your feelings.
- They do not want to talk about something that really makes them feel uncomfortable.
The fact remains it is THEIR body and they have every right for it not be touched in any way that makes them feel uncomfortable. They need to know that their saying NO is enough – that it will mean a full and complete stop of the behaviours that are making them uncomfortable, no matter how uncomfortable it makes for the person who is being asked to stop. Children, preteens and teens should not be made to feel uncomfortable, or even worse ashamed, for wanting control over their own bodies.
Avoid awkward – talk about it in a neutral and open way
Avoiding the awkwardness is better for everyone, so here are some tips that might help. Do and choose those that feel like a good fit for your family.
- Be observant and act quickly if you see them looking uncomfortable or that makes you uncomfortable/
- Direct approach “Hey, I noticed Mum, dad, Auntie Glenda, Uncle Bill touch you on the bottom – what do you feel about that?”
- If they don’t like it (which is the most likely) ask if they want to talk to the person or they need to do it.
- Talk to the person – be kind yet clear. “I happened to notice that you touched Andrea on the bottom when you greeted her. To be honest, she is older now and it makes her uncomfortable – please can that be the last time.” It’s not a question. It’s a request.
- It’s not about the adult feeling a little embarrassed – it’s about respecting the wishes of the child, preteen or teen concerned.
- There’s no need, necessarily, for the person to apologize (you’d have to ask them about this) – just that the behaviour stops.
- Be kind and clear and act as soon as you can.
- Talk to your kids – be open and unfazed – and ask them about it. Ask them what they want to happen and tell them they have done the right thing by opening up and they have done nothing wrong.
- Have them grow up knowing that it is their body and it can be touched only in ways that are comfortable – this includes family, friends and their peers.
- No mean no. Always.
We all set boundaries and want and need control over our bodies – it´s our personal space and it is different for all of us. Some people are very comfortable with displays of affection, others not so. What is crucial though is that we respect other people´s wishes when they set controls and limits over their body, and sometimes children need our help.
If you are concerned about this topic, please do get in touch with me: firstname.lastname@example.org