You Need To Let My Daughter Tell You No


Okay.

You're not going to like this, but hear me out. I need you to let my daughter tell you no. 

Yes. You. 

I'm not addressing the random stranger at the grocery store, the bus driver, the old ladies at the diner who squeal with delight when we walk past their table. I'm not talking to strangers (for the record, they're definitely not allowed to just randomly come up and touch her, and trust me, that enforcement is something I'm on top of every.single.day.). 

I'm talking to you, the adult in her life who genuinely adores her, who can't wait to squeeze her, who fiercely wants her to cuddle up to you. I understand that your motives are pure. I appreciate how much you love my child. 

And that's why I need you to listen to me, and listen to her when she tells you no. 

She is small. She is adorable. I absolutely get your urge to want to hug her and hold her. She is the most huggable kid that has ever existed. But she is a person. She is her own person. She is a person at a pivotal age, soaking everything in, and right now is when we have the critical chance to teach her one of two things: we can either instill in her the knowledge that her voice matters, or that it doesn't. 

We can teach her that she has autonomy and does not have to submit to unwanted touch or interactions... or we can teach her that it doesn't matter what she wants. We can teach her that when she speaks up, the adults who claim to love her will support her... or that we won't. 

Yep, hey, you're right - toddlers are wilfull. When she says "no, I don't want to brush my teeth," of course she's still going to have to brush her teeth. When she says she won't share, of course we're going to work with her on sharing. There is no room here for a slippery slope argument here, thanks. I'm not worried that by encouraging body autonomy I'll suddenly have a small rebellion on my hands at every turn. 

From a very young age, kids understand the difference between rules/requirements - like "no hitting" and "we always brush our teeth before bed" versus requests, such as "can you show me that picture?" or "can you tell me about your day?" 

A hug is always a request, never a requirement. 

Physical affection is not a rule for you to enforce. Even when you're well-intended. It's just not okay. 

Why? 

Because as sick as it makes me, and as sick as it makes you, the truth is that there are people out there who want to interact with children inappropriately. There are also too many men out there who continue to believe that they can interact with women however they want. And too many of us women were raised to be more polite than protective of ourselves; to take requests as requirements, and let others make the rules. 

We can do better. My daughter deserves better.

If she learns how to say NO to you - an adult who loves her, and will listen - she will be empowered to say NO when someone with less pure motivations tries to force their will on her. YOU get to help her learn how to be safer. YOU get to teach her that the adults in her life can be trusted, so she'll come to us if ever she feels threatened by someone else. YOU get to be her helper, her guardian, her champion. 

So even though I understand that it's sad to be turned down by anyone, even a two-year-old, you need to ask my child if you can hug her. If she says no, you need to respect that. Because then you are teaching her that her small voice is worth listening to; her body is hers; and you, an adult who loves her, see her as worthy of respect. Now, and always. 

And hey - don't just let my daughter tell you no. 

Let all kids tell you no. 

Give them the option. Ask for hugs, and see it as a win-win situation. If they say yes, awesome! You get a hug! If they say no, right on! They're learning to advocate for themselves! 

So really. Ask, don't demand. Some things should be requests, not requirements. But just so we're clear, when it comes to this policy, I'm not making a request of you. 

I'm telling you the rule.

Image from Wikimedia Commons. Attribution: Caleb Woods caleb_woods
All text in this post copyright Beth Kander 2019. Contact author to reprint.

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