Friday, November 18, 2011

Teaching Our Children: A Conversational Piece

A good friend of mine posted this article to me the other day and, after reading it, felt it was a good conversational message to pass on. The basis of the story is questioning whether we are teaching our children to ignore their instincts, intuition, and self-trust in order to be polite and acknowledge or validate the feelings of another.

 I recall in my childhood being told to kiss or hug a particular aunt and uncle even though I fervently refused because, frankly, I just didn't want to. The couple gave me the heebie jeebies, were always drunk and obnoxious at holiday gatherings, and just were not friendly individuals. I was probably around the age of 6 or 7. My parents, meaning well, insisted I give them affection so as not to be rude and hurt their feelings. I finally relented and pecked their cheeks and hugged them as distantly as I could to get it over with. They beamed and cooed over it, making a big display. I thought it was so incredibly annoying and uncomfortable.

Reading this article reminded me of this instance and I had to question our tendencies to continuously force our kids' affection on others in order to not be rude.

"At that moment, we are telling them, “Forget about how you feel. Do something that makes you feel uncertain and uncomfortable, so that someone else (an adult) can feel acknowledged and respected.”

Thankfully I have never been molested or abused by any family members, but I can see where this could really confuse a child into falsely trusting the adults in their lives. A hug leading to a kiss, leading to inappropriate touching all in the name of not hurting the elder's feelings. Eventually the child does not know what is good or bad touching and feels guilt if they don't perform to the adult's liking.

If you haven't read it yet, I suggest Gavin de Becker's book "The Gift of Fear". It touches quite a bit on these lines and now I wished he discussed this aspect on children more. I wonder if his other book "Protecting the Gift" which does involve children has this mentioned in it.

Do I agree with the article 100%? Mostly, but I can see a few small holes.There is a point to be made that it is important for the parents to educate the child on good/bad touching, what is appropriate, and to encourage the child to be affectionate by living in a loving home (affection being shown and given to the right people without forcing it). You can live in an aware state without being paranoid. The crux of the matter is trying to find a balance between nurturing the  child's ability to trust his instinct and yet preventing him from being afraid of everyone and everything.

Myself, guilty as sin of encouraging a hug out of friends' little ones, will start to be more self-conscious of allowing a child to say "no" and acknowledging their wishes.What I felt before was innocent affection on my part, I now see as me being very self-centered with no regards to the discomfort this may put on the child. All I can do is offer my affection, or let it be known it is always there, but leave it to the child to accept it on his own terms. This, in essence, could build a very healthy and trusting relationship empowering the child to make his own decisions while learning to trust his gut feelings.

As for my own (future) children, I will take my friend's wise words to heart and teach them to be polite with a simple "no thank you...if someone pushes for it they look like an ass. Anybody who does not honor that is not safe."

What are your thoughts?


  1. That was a good read, thank you for sharing.

    I was outside with my neighbors boys and my dog recently when a man in a car drove up and started asking the boys questions. Two of these three boys are autistic, one of them being extremely friendly and conversational. The man kept asking repetitive questions and gave me the heebie-jeebies, finally I stepped forward and said something to him and told the boys to go to their driveway now.

    I talked to the boys' mom to let her know what was said. My Honey said he'd seen the car go by once before he stopped and it didn't look right, he remembered the license plate - even from inside the house it didn't "feel right" to him. I asked the mom - how do we teach our children to be polite, respect elders, and at the same time, be wary of strangers with bad intentions? I hope she was able to relay to her boys how to follow their gut instincts.

  2. L- good instincts and scary situation. I have learned that as soon as I start feeling creeped out about something it is time to wake up and listen! Too many people tuck away those feelings, disregarding themselves as being too paranoid, or not wishing to be rude.

  3. Mmmm...not sure I agree with the concept in the article you shared, but it is a very interesting idea. I do agree with your overall assessment and the role of parents in creating an affectionate environment. I think a polite hug/kiss between relatives, supervised by other family does not set the stage for the type of abuse seen in Penn State. I think most kids can sense the difference between something "icky" and something evil (that gift of fear, perhaps?).

  4. Eric-
    I felt there were some holes in the article to question, but I see the overall point of view, especially after speaking with a friend who did have issues with family members and inappropriate touching. I didn't like the correlation the author is trying to tie between the main topic and PENN state. I kind of ignored the whole Penn State thing as I haven't really been in the loop on that. I feel the need to enforce respect without taking away the child's right to say no "politely" (stress is on being polite with their no thank yous and not being rude that way)