The Girl Scouts have long been a resource for parents and girls alike, providing children with the means and skills to become empowered, confident, and independent. Founded in 1912, the membership consists of over 1.8 million girls nationwide. With so much history and experience, organizational leadership has become deeply embedded with needs of young girls. One to be especially aware of this holiday is a young girl’s need to express bodily autonomy.
The holidays can be overwhelming for children. There’s a lot going on – loud sounds, new foods, interesting smells, and exciting possibilities for presents. There can also be many new and unfamiliar people around at the holidays, and that can be scary for some.
Children, especially girls, can be expected to hug or kiss family members they don’t spend much time with. Some may not feel comfortable expressing affection with those they aren’t familiar with. Others may not feel comfortable expressing affection with people they see often. Both situations are normal – don’t force them to show affection with people they aren’t comfortable with. It’s healthy for young children to learn and test their boundaries, and it’s important as parents and guardians to support them in upholding those boundaries.
If a relative is asking for a hug or a kiss and your child is refusing, help them by offering an alternative solution. Suggest a high-five or blowing a kiss. Respecting their choice to not hug grandpa or aunt Lisa shows them that their body belongs to them; they have control over it, including who gets to touch it.
“The notion of consent may seem very grown-up and like something that doesn’t pertain to children,” says Girl Scouts’ developmental psychologist Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald, “but the lessons girls learn when they’re young about setting physical boundaries and expecting them to be respected last a lifetime, and can influence how she feels about herself and her body as she gets older.”*
This can be empowering for children, especially girls, who are not always given the choice to uphold their boundaries. It teaches them the difference between good and bad touches and teaches them that their parents or guardians are safe to go to when those boundaries have been breached. It can also teach young girls to trust their gut, which is important in helping them learn to listen to their instincts.
Teaching bodily autonomy and independence at a young age can help children understand their own boundaries, feelings, and expectations, as well as how to respect others’. As soon as children begin to understand how and when they prefer to show physical affection, they will also begin to consider the preferences of their friends, family members, and even strangers.