The last time I talked about consent and kids, I focused on how to teach kids how to ask for consent. This time around, with the holidays here, I want to remind the adults that read this that the children in their lives are not obligated to give hugs or kisses to anyone.
For example, our daughter is terrified of men with white hair. This includes her great-grandfather, friends of the family, and, of course, Santa Claus.
Although her great-grandfather is getting older, we managed to get a picture of them by having her sit beside him on her father’s knee. It’s not the snuggly picture that we ideally wanted, but it’s a good compromise that lets her know that she has been understood, but still lets us get a picture of them together.
So remember, at holiday parties this year, that just because there is a child involved, does not mean that they are automatically obligated to give you a hug. It doesn’t matter if you’re a super close friend, parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or stranger; if the child does not give you a clear indication of consent, don’t touch them!
Our daughter’s consent is uplifted arms, or pro-active climbing onto your lap, in case you come across her this season.
Last week we went to a family birthday party (five celebrated at once, from the ages of 1 to 70!) and a lot of fun was had. However, it definitely brought to my attention that our daughter has no concept of personal space, boundaries, or consent.
She’s 1 years old. This is normal.
Normal it may be, but consent is something she needs to learn. And now that she’s walking and able to chase down other kids, she needs to learn it fast.
Fortunately, there are some pretty great resources to help us. I encourage everyone to read at least this guide (it’s 4 pages) if you have any children in your life, whether they belong to you, your family, or your friends.
My sister is already really great at respecting my daughter’s limits. Every time she visits, she asks “Can I pick you up?” before touching her. I know that if she ever says “no”, it will be respected.
As adults, we need to be aware that a child’s “no” to hugging, kissing, or being held, is not them casting any aspersions on our character. They’re just not in the mood to be touched, and we should respect that. Offer an alternative, like a high five, a fist bump, a blown kiss, or a simple wave.
Along a similar vein, if the child has agreed to be touched, and then wants to stop, they should be listened to.
This is all common sense, and easy to follow because we’re adults. We understand the reasoning. How do we teach it to children?
Part of teaching consent to kids is modelling it. Showing that they have agency over their own bodies is a big step to understanding that others are also to be respected.
She walked up to the only other person her size and tried to hug them. She kept her balance (and grip) quite well as he tried to wriggle away… I feel like I dropped the ball at this point. I should have taken her aside and explained that he wasn’t interested in being held, just like she didn’t want to be held by the strangers at the party. I might not have gotten through to her, but I should have tried, multiple times if necessary.
Teaching them empathy is another part. Our daughter also pulled the his hair. He cried, understandably. But she doesn’t seem to understand that having hair pulled hurts – she does it to herself all the time, and doesn’t seem bothered by it. She thinks it’s funny when she pulls other people’s hair. I made her apologize to him (I held her while I apologized for her because she is non verbal) and told her not to pull other people’s hair. I don’t think it has sunk in yet. She pulled mine the next morning.
I’ve made headway on my to-do list. It’s now… *Goes to check on list and adds three more things* less than ten items. I got a lot of stuff done yesterday, but it felt like I was walking through molasses. Everything took three times longer than it should.
My publisher is moving full speed ahead with Parasomnia. They sent me a mock-up of the cover and it looks great. I can’t wait to see this book in print! I’m going to send them back the edits soon.
I’m still fighting with this cold. Mostly it’s at night where I go from feeling OK to unable to stop coughing. I hate coughing!
I think I should probably go quality test the coffee I roasted on Tuesday. It’s a hard job but someone has to do it.
Seriously. I see you over there tsking at the parents whose kids are crying or being loud.
Not every child deals the same with different stimulus. It’s not that they’re badly behaved, it’s that they have no methods for coping with stuff. Infants and babies literally have never experienced anything as terrible as what they’re going through. Cut them some slack.
4. Complain about their clothing
Not all parents can afford designer clothing, some parents are geeky, and not all parents follow your gendering ways. If a parent wants to put their girl in a batman outfit it’s none of your business. Same with if they want to put their boy in a pink wonder woman shirt. It’s none of your business.
3. Touch them without permission
The parents don’t know where your hands have been, the child can’t give consent, and it’s down right creepy. Check with the parents, and then if they’re ok with it, go nuts.
How would you feel if someone came up to you and started poking you, messing your hair, or grabbing your hand?
2. Insist they smile at you
Baby smiles are awesome. I understand that everyone loves it when a baby smiles at them. That doesn’t give you the right to stop the baby and parents and insist that the baby smile at you. If the baby smiles in passing, yay. If not, move along.
Having someone stop you in public to explain to your baby why they should smile is creepy.
1. Smoke in their vicinity or living area
At this point you either understand the dangers of smoking or you don’t want to understand. That’s perfectly fine but you forfeit the right to complain when someone tells you to move away from a baby.
Second hand smoke and third hand smoke (the smoke that stays on your clothing) can cause severe respiratory issues in babies for their entire life.
If you smoked in that clothing, you should not be holding a baby.
Brainwashing is no longer considered the reason most people join cults. Instead, it’s theorized that it’s a combination of indoctrination and acceptance that leads people to follow dangerous or benign cults.
Having a child, you go through a similar experience and the two are scarily close.
*Warning* This is meant as a humorous article pointing out the obvious and making exaggerated claims, not as a serious scientific debate.
5. Eating and Sleeping
The human mind depends a lot on its body functioning and reacting in a predictable way. Changing its patterns and starving the body of sleep or food can completely alter the way the mind reacts to situations.
For that reason, cults will often wake up their members every couple of hours to meditate, pray, etc. They will also under-feed or change the eating habits of their members for the same reason.
When you have a child, it does the same thing; waking you up multiple times a night and making sure you never have a warm meal or a meal on time again.
4. Isolation and Inclusion
The first thing that a cult will do is try to isolate new members. If they don’t have a strong support structure, they’re more vulnerable to what appears to be a warm and inviting environment. Once the members are isolated, they make sure that the other members become a new, self echoing, support structure.
When you have a baby, it comes first. A lot of the people you saw all the time disappear into the background and you find yourself meeting other parents at Ikea or the Disney Store.
At first it’s like everyone has abandoned you and then you meet other parents and they understand how you’ve suffered. Suddenly you have a completely new structure of friends.
3. Constant Fear
Cults, and extreme political parties, often like to reinforce how awesome they are by contrasting to an enemy. It could be another cult, another culture, the government etc. Sometimes it won’t be a person or group of people but an event or idea. Conspiracies, end of days, etc.
As a new parent, you will be bombarded by advice from scientific articles, friends, family, and random strangers. Each and every one of which will contradict each other or itself. The advice will be dire and terrifying. One friend will send you something like this, “Using a soother will warp your child’s gums and their teeth will be crooked and ill developed” and another will send you this, “Using a soother lowers the risk of SIDS.”
EVERYTHING will kill your kid or scar them for life and every parent will fight to the death for the thing they believe in.
2. Rituals and Repetition
Cults ingrain ideas and habits by repetition and rituals. Songs, chants, and speeches are common but so are exercises, flagellation, or repetitive actions.
As a new parent, what was once a fun cute rhyme is now a mandatory ritual. A favourite song becomes constant background noise.
Things start needing to be done in a specific order that you were daft enough to not write down and when the diaper is changed after the feeding instead of before, you’re lost to singing extra made up verses of their bedtime song.
Not to mention that watching hours of Pepa Pig, Paw Patrol, or Dora makes you wish for the flagellation.
1. Charismatic Leader
Really dangerous cults have an extremely charismatic leader. Someone who can, with a smile and a well-placed word, make you feel like the most important person in the world. A person so lovable that everyone wants to be around them.
A baby will scream, poop, puke, pee, scream, pull your hair, and hit you with every body part. At two AM you’ll wake up, hearing them make a noise and you’ll beg every deity you’ve ever heard of that they don’t wake up.
Despite all that they’ll look up at you with those big eyes and make a cooing noise that will melt your heart and you’ll instantly forgive them. Their smile makes you feel utterly filled with love and when they snuggle into you, you feel a love like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. (Snuggling may actually be a baby’s way of trying to burrow into your chest to steal your heart.)
One big difference, thankfully, is the fact that parenthood rarely results in mass suicide.
Most parents call their unborn children things like peanut, or monkey. Your mother and I are not most people. Your parents are weird. We’re just as likely to get excited about Disney princesses as you are, we’re always saying quotes from movies and books, and we love games.
You’re now -181 days, and I don’t think your existence has fully sunk in. I’m not quite sure what I’m in for and that’s the first secret I have to tell you.
Despite what I’ll say, I do not know everything. I’m not perfect and I’ll make mistakes. Hopefully by the time you realize it, it won’t shatter your trust or belief in me.
I may not be perfect but I will try my best to take care of you and no matter what I’ll always love you.
If I have one hope for you, it’s that you’re never afraid to confide in me or your mother. We want nothing but the best for you, no matter what that ends up being.