This is the story of a time when I was really proud of my daughter. Katarina was three years old and we were in line at a Toys R Us. She was sitting in the seat part of the buggy. Behind us in line was an older woman, probably about 55, she was talking with us while we waited. It was the normal standing in line chit chat. She said something like, "Your daughter is so cute. How old is she?" Everyone with kids has had that conversation countless times with strangers. Then she did something else that people seem to think is okay when they meet a baby or small child. She reached out to touch Katarina. Not in a creepy way. I'm pretty sure that she didn't mean anything weird by it. She was going to touch her hand or her hair.....it isn't something that would be considered abusive or sexual at all, but that doesn't make it okay.
At this moment, Katarina did the thing that made me proud. She put her hand up in the air and said, "Stop. Don't touch me."
The woman was clearly shocked and offended, she let out a snort and a "Well I never....." and stared at me waiting for me to reprimand my daughter. I calmly patted Katarina and whispered, "That was good sweetie" and then told the woman, "She has every right to choose not to let someone touch her."
Katarina reacted exactly the way that I would have hoped. She didn't freak out. She calmly and assertively informed this woman of her boundaries. I loved it!
You might be wondering how it is that she knew to react this way. Maybe you aren't, but I am going to tell you anyway! Thomas and I started teaching her when she was little. We never once told her to hug or kiss a family friend or relative. We always asked before we kissed or hugged her. Doing this modeled to her that she has the choice to whether or not she wants to let someone into her personal space. Anytime a family member said, "Come give me a hug", I would say, "You may hug her if you want, but you don't have to". I was quickly labeled THAT MOM...you know the one with all the "new ideas about child rearing" I'm sure there were probably less flattering labels put on me when I wasn't around. But I didn't care. It was more important for my daughter to know that she wasn't required to touch or be touched if she didn't want to.
Katarina loves to wrestle around, have tickle fights, and jump up and down on us parents. Normal kid fun, but the moment that she says stop, we do. And it goes the other way too, when I am done getting tickled or jumped on, I say stop. She does. There is never a need to say "no more" twice. When someone is done with tickles or hugs or games, it immediately stops.
The night after the incident with the lady at the store, I was telling a friend about what had happened. Another woman overheard us talking and couldn't resist jumping in. She told me that I had better get a handle on that sassyness. It might be cute now that she is three, but when she gets older and smarts off to adults it won't be cute anymore. Katarina needed to learn to respect adults and be polite.
Normally this type of interference would have made me angry or at the least annoyed, but this time I was sad. I thought about this woman and the two precious daughters that she had, and I realized that it was more important to her that her children be well behaved...that they be polite to adults, than it was for her daughters to have a say over their own body and personal space.
I also really feel the need to clarify something here, something that my friend never could be made to understand....Katarina didn't say anything disrespectful to that woman. She didn't sass her. She stood up for herself and told her no. This is the lesson that we should all want our daughters and our sons to learn. If they can't tell an adult stranger not to touch their hand, how can we expect them to tell an adult that they do know, an adult that may be in charge, not to touch their private areas. If we squelch their voices, how do we expect them to speak out if someone makes them do something that they don't want to do.
As Katarina has gotten older I have given her more instructions about how she can use her voice. When she is going to a class, or Sunday School, I tell her this, "I expect you to do the right thing, but remember that the teacher could be a crazy person and you don't have to obey the teacher."
Who tells their kids that? Isn't that a recipe for a bratty, awful kid? No. It isn't. I have never once gotten a bad report from a teacher or leader about her behavior. (I have also never told her to go to bed and gotten a "no" from her-she has a firm understanding of rules) She understands that doing the right thing means being respectful and obeying the rules. But she also knows that if a teacher or coach or other kid tells her to do something that makes her uncomfortable, she can say NO and I will back her up. If they tell her to do something that involves her private area, or another person's private area, or taking clothes off, or touching without taking clothes off...or anything that she doesn't want to be involved in, she can say, "I will not do that." and if the teacher threatens to call me or tell me that she didn't behave, she can say, "please call her now"...and she will never, ever get in trouble for doing that.
Some family members heard me going over this talk (we discuss it every time she is going to visit a Sunday School or be with adults that are new. We discuss it even with adults that she sees all the time) and they told me I was crazy. "No one there is going to tell her to do anything wrong. You can't let her decide what directions she will or won't obey." I told them that I would never tell my daughter to obey everything that someone else tells her to do.
I understand that no matter how prepared Katarina is, an abuser could still do something to her. Ultimately it is my responsibility to protect her, but I can't be there every second. I also know that self-assured, assertive children are less likely to become prey for abusers. Nothing is fool proof. You can't prepare for every possible situation, and no matter how careful and cautious you are it is still possible for a predator to come into your life and try to prey on your child....but that is no excuse for laziness. Prepare for the things that you can and go over those preparations again and again!
Give your children a voice. Show them that it is valid by listening to it.
Oh yeah, I also told her that if the calm respectful "no" doesn't work....then she can scream and kick and hit and bite and yell until help comes. It is her body and her personal space and no one has a right to it if she doesn't want them to.
By far this isn't the only preparations that Thomas and I have made with Katarina or the only discussions we have had on this topic, but it is the story that came to mind when I read Sheena's post. It is a start and a foundation. We build on that foundation with repeated viewings of Safe Side Super Chick and lots and lots of conversations, mock confrontations, questions and answers. These preparations grow in depth the older Katarina gets.
What about you? Do you teach your kids to say no? Have you even thought about it?
.....or do you think I'm crazy? Let's have a conversation of our own about this!