Friday, September 7, 2012

Forced Affection.

Geesh. Parenting is tricky.

The end.

(what if that were my post? ha!)

Over the summer a friend was telling a story about her elementary age daughter at school. Some classmates (boys) asked her for a hug. When she said no, they told her she was "mean." My friend was, of course, sharing from the mother-of-the-girl perspective.

I started thinking about Eliot.

He's shy, reserved, gets easily overwhelmed around a lot of people and shuts down. Russ and I are not like this. In fact, Russ is probably the exact opposite. As rookie parents we started early on "Eliot, give so-and-so a hug." Historically, he retreats upon given that instruction. "Eliot, stop being rude, go give them a hug." We know he has sensory issues and still we persist.

*By the way, we NEVER do this with strangers or people he doesn't know and love. We taught him early to say "No, thank you" when people ask him for affection that he doesn't know. This is typically a scenario that plays out with people he knows, loves, and trusts. Extended family included.*

We are communicating over and over: these people are safe, therefore, they get to demand your affection when THEY want it, not when YOU'RE comfortable giving it.

Let's fast forward, add some hormones and a good ol' fashioned awkward stage and flip it. Eliot could easily be one of those boys from that story. Even out of innocence, he could create the same situation because of what we're teaching him inadvertently. We've told him countless times that HE'S BEING RUDE by not giving affection whether he's comfortable with it or not. We've taught him that he doesn't get to be in control of when people do or don't touch him. And that's not okay.

And why?

Honestly? I get embarrassed. My pride gets offended that MY kid doesn't respond like everyone wants him to. Because I'm a people pleaser. Card carrying member, actually.

So, in the last couple months, we started retraining ourselves on what we say and expect of Eliot. As it's come up, we've been honest with family and friends about letting him decide when he wants to give affection. We've stopped forcing him to give affection when he's not comfortable, no matter who it is.


Jodie Allen said...

We do the same darn thing to our kids and they don't have sensory issues but I think the same thing... it's your Grandma (or whoever) GO HUG HER! I feel like you just gave me permission to stop doing that! Thanks!

amy said...

thank you for saying that out loud. i hate when people (family members/friends) try to "force" hugs out of my kids. it's OK if they don't want to!

Chrissy said...

Thank you for writing this, we are dealing with it, too!

Erin said...

I think this is one of the hardest things to help kids understand - respect. They have to respect others and others' feelings, but they also have to respect their own sense of boundaries.

With Ella (who has no sensory issues we've noticed), we don't "force" her to hug anyone except her grandparents (because usually she's just refusing because she's involved in a movie or something of the sort). But we try to encourage her to show affection and remind her to be polite at all times. If church members want to hug her, etc., we don't require it. But we do want her to say good morning in a polite way (not the "I'm forced to say this but I hate it" voice) and to speak when spoken TO. She's getting better about it.

She doesn't have to hug aunts/uncles/cousins/stepgrandparents if she doesn't want to do it. She has to respect her own sense of boundaries and understand her own feelings. Her body is HERS and we want her to understand that (without having to have a conversation yet about inappropriate touching).

Parenting really is TRICKY! If you ever want to talk, just let me know. We deal with different things, but they're often rooted in similar issues, it seems to me.