Children, Respect and Not Kissing Granny

Happy New Year! Bit late, sorry. I’ve been too busy eating to blog. Why is there always so much food around at Christmas? To be fair, I eat too much even when it isn’t the festive period, Christmas is just a handy excuse, although I’m not sure I can really justify finishing off my children’s dinners by saying it’s Christmas. I am doing yoga once a week now, so that cancels out all left-overs eaten, yes?

Over-eating and potential weight loss is not, however, the subject of this post. The need to respect our children is.

Lucy Emmerson, co-ordinator of The Sex Education Forum, was slammed last week by many who, almost laughably, completely missed the point she was making. She was not, as Esther Rantzen dramatically exclaimed in the Daily Fail (where else?) “banning kisses from granny”. Don’t you love how our media manage to get things so spectacularly wrong? (I refuse to link to that awful paper so if you want to read Ms Rantzen’s article, you’ll just have to Google it yourself.)

The point that Ms Emmerson was, rightly and importantly in my opinion, making was that children need to be aware that their bodies are their own. They do not belong to their parents, it’s not the decision of any friend, or relative or parent as to whether a child kisses or hugs, or indeed high-fives, another person. It is entirely the decision of the child, no matter how young, no matter to whom they are engaging with.

The Princess is 3 years old. She is loving, inclusive, generous, feisty, strong-willed, explosive, excitable, inquisitive…just like most 3 year olds, I imagine. And she hates goodbyes. Hates them. She doesn’t even like to say the word when it comes to leaving loved ones. The Boyfriend and I ask her if she is going to give [insert name of any given relative] a kiss or a hug goodbye, and she will invariably say no. Or hide. Or simply walk off. We have taken to asking her if she wants to say Hello instead, and give [relative] a hello hug. This she will often do without hesitation and with a huge smile. But it is her choice. It is left to her to decide whether she wants to kiss or hug or say goodbye or hello or not. Her body belongs to her. She knows whether she feels like hugging someone at that moment, and if she doesn’t, it isn’t a personal attack, it is just how she feels. If that family member feels attacked, well, it’s their problem to deal with.

And that’s the thing about young children and toddlers. It’s THE most important thing to remember (for me, at any rate), that they are not giving you a hard time, they are HAVING a hard time. (If anyone knows the origin of this quote, by the way, please let me know and I’ll credit it.) It is so easy to take normal toddler and pre-schooler behaviour personally, as if they are trying to make you feel bad, or cross, or to stress you out before the school day has even started. A 5am alarm-call is an evil plan to ensure your whole day is one long struggle thanks to tiredness, the decision to sit in the middle of a supermarket aisle and not move is the doing of a terrible, small over-lord, determined to embarrass you and test your patience in front of an audience of disapproving shoppers. The refusal to give you a kiss or hug is an indication of how unimportant you are.

Except, of course, none of that is true. It is all about them. Little children don’t have the capacity to empathise, they simply feel how they feel. Whatever extra information we assign to these actions is our own information, our own spin on the world. Children are honest, they live for the moment, they don’t conform to social expectations and they don’t have a hidden agenda. We adults could learn a lot from children, if we could take the time to view the world through their innocent and honest eyes.

A 5am alarm-call is the result of not needing any more sleep that night, the refusal to get up from the supermarket aisle floor is because little legs are aching or more likely tiredness thanks to a 5am start, and the declining of a hug or a kiss is because that’s just not what they feel like doing. Or because they don’t want to say goodbye.

I am glad Lucy Emmerson’s statement caused so much furore. It has brought into the media the need to respect our children and to listen to them. They are still people, sometimes brutally honest, often hugely emotional, and always dealing with life and feelings and experiences without the necessary vocabulary to fully express themselves, but still people nonetheless, and definitely people worth a lot more respect than they often receive.

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