Teach Children How to Say, “No!” Before Puberty

It’s essential that children learn and trust they have absolute agency over their bodies – no matter who is seeking their affection.  Adults sometimes see one toddler hugging another and think, “Oh, isn’t that sweet!” but not all hugs are wanted, and no child should have to acquiesce to a hug, a kiss or a tickle they don’t want. We can’t expect an excited toddler to slow down long enough to observe that his friend doesn’t want a hug and we can’t expect his friend, who is just learning language, to be able to summon up, “No!” as they’re being exuberantly squeezed. There’s a tendency to diminish these kinds of experiences between young children to, “He’s just being cute” or “That’s how toddlers behave.” But when we don’t support the uncomfortable child in these situations, the unspoken message is, “Don’t make a big deal of it.” Adults rarely hesitate to set boundaries when a toddler hits or pushes, but boundaries around unwanted physical contact – touching, hugging or kissing – should be just as clearly and firmly set. While the hugger may mean no harm, the other child’s discomfort needs to be addressed.  Just as with any sort of conflict, narrating helps both [...]