Recently I was reading an article a mom wrote about her family rules. Some of the rules were pretty standard: clean up after yourself, finish your homework before bed, etc. But there was one rule that set her family apart: “Ask before you touch.” I finished reading and sat there dumbfounded, as I had never really given this much thought before. When we watch kids play, touching is common and most parents think nothing of it. In our own playgroup, my son is the only boy, and he loves to show his friends affection through hugs.
I became a mom on a mission. I spoke with the other moms in his playgroup, and we all agreed that along with taking turns instead of sharing (more about this later), we’d institute another rule for the kids: ask before you touch. With my own son, we started at home with Daddy and me. He is breastfed and used to have a habit of sticking his hands down my shirt whenever he wanted milk. And unfortunately, he was starting to do this to other women he came in contact with as well. Every time this happened, I would gently move his hands to his lap, look him in the eye, and tell him to please ask before he touches someone else’s body. Daddy gave him a similar spiel when our son wanted to wrestle. Every time a new person came over, they were also told the rule and asked to participate.
One little girl that our son is friends with doesn’t like to be touched. However, we have found now that he asks her if he can have a hug, she smiles and says yes, instead of getting agitated and running away. Even though the kids are young and don’t quite understand it yet, I believe this will help them tremendously once they start dating. Consent is not implied and must be asked first. If he receives anything but an enthusiastic yes, then he will know touching is not okay.
When kids are young, no one wants to think about the things that they could do wrong in the future. I believe that if I teach my son to ask before he touches someone now, he will hold onto that when he’s older. When we are out in public at the park or playing with kids we don’t know, he knows to keep his hands to himself, and that if he is touched, hugged, or hit, he should remind the other kids to please ask first. We have only had one mishap so far where I had to intervene and remind the older kids who wanted to play fight that they needed to keep their hands to themselves or ask my son if he wanted to be touched. I also want to note that I do not want to single out boys; I plan to teach my daughter the same rules once she is a bit older.
Now, when I hear my son asking if he can hug someone, my heart swells knowing that I’m not just teaching him consent, I’m also teaching him how to respect another people’s boundaries.