When my granddaughter was little, she would often hide behind her mum’s legs when I came over, or when they came to visit me, meaning I often didn’t get the hello hug I was looking forward to. It didn’t really bother me but my son would often be embarrassed, sometimes angry, and would try to convince her to give Grandma a hug.
I’ve never seen any harm in this but, according to sexual health expert Ruthie Patriquin, cajoling an embrace out of a child can be harmful.
Patriquin says in her column for an American newspaper, “Helping [children] to understand consent is a skill they can learn from a very early age.”
She argues that even the most innocent exchange – a grandparent greeting her grandchild – can be a lesson in sexual health, which she says is about much more than “body parts and babies”, including the concept of consent.
She says we should always ask first before hugging a child.
“When asking for consent, let’s teach children to wait for an answer. The answer isn’t yes, unless we hear the person say ‘YES’. Let’s also help children understand that a ‘yes’ doesn’t count if they have forced the person into saying it.
“We can talk about the word ‘NO’ – it’s an important word – we all must learn to respect it. We don’t have to let anyone touch us if we don’t want them to.”
This echoes advice from earlier in the year in which a child psychologist said it was “too sexual” to give a child a kiss on the lips. Dr Charlotte Reznick told The Sun newspaper this can be confusing for children because the mouth is an erogenous zone, therefore a kiss on a child’s lips from a parent can be “stimulating”.
I haven’t yet forgotten the pecks on the lips my granny used to give me a million moons ago and I would describe them more as “hairy” than “stimulating”. While I do my best to make sure my kisses aren’t furry, I can’t see myself withdrawing from kissing or hugging my grandbabies on the grounds of “sexual health”, but maybe I’m in the wrong?
While I accept that some children are less affectionate than others, I can’t help think that keeping them at arm’s length will do them any favours. Is it not the grandparent’s role to demonstrate that affection can be pure and loving?