Why This Mom Always Asks for Her Son's Permission Before Holding Him
Many parents feel uneasy about other people picking up their children, and for good reason. It’s totally normal to want other people to be mindful of how they touch your child. After all, it’s a basic part of infant etiquette. One mom, however, goes even further. She and her husband ask their son if they can pick him up, every time before doing so.
“I always feel for his ‘yes’,” she wrote. “Why? Because we want him to know that his body is his, and that others’ bodies are theirs, and no one gets to make choices about someone else’s body.”
This also extends to other parents’ children, she said. She advises asking both the parents and the child if you can hold them before doing so, taking a moment to connect with the child and asking what they want.
This kind of relationship with your child is a part of what’s become known as RIE parenting, which is geared toward treating infants and young children as competent, if little, humans. Even more broadly, though, Moodley’s hashtag #lessonsinsovereignty points to an even bigger lesson to teach children at a young age: telling them that they have control over their bodies.
The idea of teaching children to give others permission to touch them isn’t new. It’s been discussed by educators like Colorado State University professor Monica Rivera, who talked about how important it is to learn about consent from an early age in a TEDX Talk last year. As an instructor in the Women’s Studies Department at CSU and a sexual violence educator, she says that most women don’t realize how often others — friends, partners, bosses, teachers, even strangers — touch them without their permission. On the other hand, most men don’t realize how often they touch other people without their consent, she says.
“I think that if we want to shift that trajectory, we need to be starting early, and rather than thinking that we are raising children, realizing we are raising future adults,” she says.
Rivera is trying to put this lesson of teaching consent into practice through her own parenting, as she outlined in her TEDX talk. Here’s some ideas she had for incorporating body sovereignty lessons into your own parenting.
1. Don’t force your screaming child to sit on Santa’s lap. While Rivera isn’t advocating for abolishing mall Santa pictures, she does think that making your kid sit on a stranger’s lap isn’t an ideal way to teach them that they can control their own bodies.
2. Don’t have “The Talk;” start teaching them early. Instead of having an awkward conversation about the birds and the bees when your child is older, Rivera says that she tries to have age-appropriate conversations with her children from a young age so they have a good understanding of their bodies as they grow up.
3. Communicate with your child during bath time. Rivera tells her sons what she’s doing as she washes them, asking them if she can wash certain parts of their body or if they want to. This gives them some agency over what they do.
4. Give your child a choice of how to show affection to loved ones. This can be one of the harder lessons, Rivera says, because family members don’t always take this well. But she gives her sons three choices for how they can greet family members: a hug, a high five or a fist-bump.