Image Courtesy: Chynnamj 

The holidays are most exciting times in most households. It is a time where families gather, memories are made and faces are stuffed. Amidst all the cheer and laughter, it  is a also a season where we must consciously promote bodily autonomy.

Statistically, most abused children are abused by someone close to their family, not complete strangers. These children are hurt by those they trust and often feel no sense of danger around. One of the reasons why this is possible is because unknowingly, parents and care givers find themselves “promoting rape culture.” 

When it comes to the topic at hand, promoting rape culture means that we condition our children so that they do not have complete authority over their bodies (bodily autonomy) and other people can demand them to do things with their bodies they may feel uncomfortable with.

This is where you may start making a mental checklist of how you have never promoted rape culture in your children. Truth is, we all have. Even the most well meaning parents have at one time or the other. The good news? It is a relatively easy fix. How? We willl get there. But first let us take in this quote by Maya Angelou:

“I did what I knew, then when I knew better, I did that.”

We must first detox our minds of the way things were done in the past simply because we don’t live in the same times. It is important for us to protect our children from predators not just those afar but those within our own walls.

From an early age, we must openly show respect for our children’s bodies. This means as an infant, talking to the child before you approach their body and articulate clearly that their bodies belong to them and privates are private. This not only shows them that their body belongs to them – not mommy, daddy, and certainly not anyone else but also helps expand their vocabulary. From toddler age to teenage years, this means that we do not require or mandate children do innocent things with their bodies they are not comfortable with, namely hugs and kisses. I cannot count how many times I have demanded my oldest son to “give aunty a hug” or “kiss” and scolded him when he hesitated – especially if said aunty or uncle just bought him a gift! Thinking about this now makes me cringe.

Image Courtesy: Loveyoutopeace

But now I know better, so I am doing better. Hugs and kisses should only ever be done willingly as a show of love and affection, not as an obligation or payment for receiving a gift. The problem is not aunty, or uncle, or grandma or grandpa, the problem is that we are conditioning their minds from a young age a skill we do not want them to learn, that other people can mandate them to do things with their bodies they are uncomfortable with especially when there is an exchange of material gift or even a promise of material gift involved. We are also showing them that they can demand others do things with their bodies as long as they present them some sort of “payment” ie gift. It’s a very subtle lesson but we cannot deny its presence.

This issue is certainly not limited to the holidays, the holidays just seem like a good time to highlight this concern because our children tend to be around more people during this time. As you enjoy your family and friends this season, promote bodily autonomy. It is ok if your child refuses to sit on Santa’s lap, or give aunty a hug or kiss uncle goodnight, heck sometimes they may even refuse you a kiss! My daughter does that to me sometimes and it hurts but I never force her – it is OK. Offer alternatives to hugs and kisses that allow children to express greetings without touch. Let them stand beside Santa or in your own arm if they prefer.

It could be a tough conversation to have but be sure to explain what you are doing to your family. In reality, we should promote body autonomy all the time. Our children should know they are worthy, valued and are in complete control of their bodies.