Bodily autonomy

Bodily autonomy…this has been quite the feat with my 5 year old. I am constantly worried about her body and ensuring that she owns it and others respect it. This seems to be going well. We respect her “no” and help guide her when she encounters others and it’s clear she understands how important this is. For her. But we haven’t successfully taught her the same of others.

She still hugs her friends or takes their hands without asking. She does it out of love and comfort, but we want her to know that intention and impact do not necessarily correlate, nor are they one and the same.

Her learning of this is most obvious with my partner. When she’s wound up or pushing limits she gets grabby. She hangs on his legs, hugs him tight, climbs on him, etc. And he regularly asks her to stop. She ignores this request repeatedly until it blows up and he prys her off of him and he leaves the room to scream into a pillow or something of the sort.

The other night she hurt him and he was mad. While he was “taking space” as he was deserving, I talked with her more about this.

“Why do you think daddy is upset?

“I don’t know.”

“Did you check in with him?”

She ran to the door, I heard some mumbles and then she returned.

“He’s still mad,” she said.

She got teary eyed because I could tell she was sure she was supposed to be upset, but I could also see that she was struggling understanding the why.

I asked her, “do you like it when people touch you when you say not to.

She replied, “no.”

I said bluntly, “look kid, there are people in this world who hurt other people by touching them when they don’t want to be touched. I do not want you to be one of those people.”

She looked at me and said that she just wanted to apologize . So she headed out and tried again, this time with success.

I’ve been thinking about this moment a lot. My mind keeps asking, how did we miss this? Two things come to mind. As a person who has been touched by other people when not wanting to be touched, I likely hold a history in my body different than my partner’s. I wonder if my energy holds a stronger line than his. Secondly, and most importantly, I am wondering how well he and I model this for her. Today and moving forward, my partner and I are paying attention to how we ask for consent before touch.

I’m also thinking about how to do it with the baby. I see her give him big hugs as his little body struggles to push her off sometimes. She’s missing the cues and I know I need to do more for her. For us.

2 thoughts on “Bodily autonomy

  1. Hi Kelly! I am working on the same thing with my kiddos as well. We have the same struggles, especially with wanting to touch (play with, hug, kiss, poke, push, etc.) the younger sibling. Before the little guy could talk we really emphasized non-verbal cues, “he’s saying no by crying”, “he’s saying no with his body because he doesn’t have words”, “his face is telling you no”, etc. It was (and still is) hard for my older one to understand the point you made about intention and impact since he is very taken with his brother’s cuteness and wants to deliver hugs and kisses accordingly. I don’t know how much the message has sunk in yet but we are trying, more than ever now as they grow up

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    1. I hear all of this. I watch the two of them interact and it feels more difficult when the baby actually loves the attention. And then he’ll do it back to her and she’ll say “but he did it first.” Trying to explain that the baby is too little to know better makes it even harder! We’ve been trying to say, “What would you think if he did that to you without your permission? Remember you are also teaching him how to be a good sibling.” I also read an article once where a parent looked for clues in interactions and stepped in to stop it, asking the kid to confirm. For example, two kids were playing tag and one was clearly over it, but the other kid had not noticed. So she stopped them, asked the one if they were done playing and the kid confirmed. So she turned to the other one and explained how it’s important to pay attention to when people don’t want to do things anymore and to check in with your friends. I look forward to when the baby has more understanding so we can work on this on a deeper level! Thanks for reading, love to you and your family!

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