Imagine if you didn’t have a say over when, what or how your body was used. Imagine if it was up to someone else when your hair was cut. Imagine if someone forced you to hug or kiss someone for their own reasons. Imagine if you weren’t allowed to choose your clothing. Imagine if someone forced you to eat when, what and how much they thought was enough.
How would that feel? How do you think you would you react?
This is the reality for many children. It may make you feel uncomfortable to think of children having these choices, but this is their right. If it makes you feel uncomfortable, I think it’s a clear indication that you need to explore why that is. Many parents feel an undeserving control over their children’s bodies and choices.
Unless the decision is impacting their safety or hygiene, what is the real reasoning behind not giving them the choice? Perhaps you feel societies pressure to control children? Perhaps you feel like you can make a ‘better’ choice? But what message is that sending your child? And whose life is this choice impacting most?
Parents sometimes unknowingly enforce control over their children’s bodies. I feel like it begins with feeling protective and responsible for their health, safety and well-being. But children’s body autonomy needs to be respected.
Children have a right to make any and all choices about their bodies. This is not only important with regards to safety and knowing no one else can touch them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable. But it should also include who they kiss or hug, if they cut their hair, when and how much they eat and sleep, and appropriate clothing choices.
I often read parents saying that without them forcing their child to eat or sleep that they would make poor choices. But have you tried? Have you pushed past the initial stage where they process that freedom after not having it? Have you given them appropriate choices of food and let them manage what they consume? Or are you working off assumptions and myths?
Allowing bodily autonomy is one of many reasons I don’t agree with routine infant circumcision. By all means, if my son would like to alter his body with tattoos, piercings or whatever he wants, he’s free to do so once he’s old enough to consent. Ultimately, it’s not my body, I do not have the right to alter his body unless there is a serious medical necessity.
It’s also why I won’t pierce my children’s ears unless they ask and choose to when they’re older. I know that in the grand scheme of things, piercing a child’s ears doesn’t seem like a big deal. However, to me it is about the message it is sending the child – which is that it is somehow your place to modify their body.
As a parent or a relative, you’re not automatically entitled to hugs, kisses, or any other physical contact without consent. It’s our job as parents to let kids know that they are both in control of their body and entitled to say “no.” It’s also important to respect our children’s wishes and to step in when others forget to consider their rights and boundaries, even if it causes offense. No matter how harmless it seems to you or anyone else, your children have the right to make those choices regardless and that must be respected.
How do you expect them to say no to unwanted physical contact later in their life if you ignore their feelings about that while they’re young? Giving kids control of their bodies at a young age builds a foundation that will help them create healthy personal boundaries later in life.