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.