One of the things we have been working on with the kids is using words instead of screaming.
Theoretically, words help communicate an idea more clearly than an ear-piercing shriek, and they are very important in our interactions with others. Not only do we need to use words when we interact with others, but we need to listen to what others are saying and be respectful. This is fairly hard to explain to a three-and-a-half year old, so we’ve been trying to lead by example.
So far Kid1 has actively used “No!” and “Stop!” as ways of communicating when he doesn’t want something, or something needs to be stopped. The preschool teachers are working with the children to say “no thank you” because “our friends hear us better when you say no thank you” but in general everyone is happy they are using words at all.
We try to be respectful of “no” and “stop” within some limits. If Kid1 is screaming “NO!” or “STOP!” at Kid2, we investigate (usually from a distance with the hopes they can work it out on their own). Kid1 is welcome to say “no” to eating broccoli, but it will still occupy a corner of the plate. If we’re having some tickle/wrestling time, and Kid1 asks/tells us to stop or says “nuff!” (enough), we stop, if Kid1 chooses to re-initiate the tickling/wrestling that’s fine, but it is his choice. There is a difference between broccoli at dinner and pushing the boundaries on physical interaction.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday we spent some time with my MIL and SIL. They “enjoy spending time” with the kids and were having some tickle time on the guest bed. There was the usual giggling and shrieking which accompanies small children being tickled, but after a little while, Kid1 asked them to stop, they didn’t, so Kid1 asked again. By the third time Kid1 asked, it was obvious (to me at least) that they needed to stop RIGHT THEN.
I went in to intervene and was informed that: “We’re just having fun” followed by a few more tickle passes and a whiny “nuff!” from Kid1. You might be having fun, but Kid1 asked you to stop. I offered Kid1 an out by asking if it was “time to use the potty?” (no one wants an “accident” on the freshly made bed) and picked up Kid2 as well. With a bit of redirection and distraction there were no more tickling incidents for the reminder of our visit.
What upset me about the tickling incident was how little regard they had for Kid1’s request. When a three year old says “no” or “stop” or “nuff” they mean it. By ignoring Kid1’s requests they were being incredibly disrespectful, and sending a very mixed message. Why it is OK for Grandma or Auntie to say “no” or “stop” and be obeyed, but when Kid1 says them it means nothing?
How is this lesson going to translate for them as they get older? Are they going to ignore other people’s requests to “stop” or ignore a “no!” from a girlfriend or boyfriend because “we’re just having fun!” Are they going to be less likely to say “no” because it will be ignored?
Much has been written about the “forcing children to hug (or not hug) grandma” issue, and how it “leaves them vulnerable to sexual abusers.” I wasn’t forced to hug people when I was growing up, my father taught us how to shake hands, look people in the eye and be polite. “If you can’t behave like a lady, then fake it,” he would remind us before familial and social gatherings, that and “shake hands, look them in the eye.” I’m not sure how well that has served me, even with out “forced hugging” I was in an emotionally abusive relationship for a while in college, although I am fairly good at hand shaking.
We don’t force the kids to hug anyone because we still remember when we were children, and recognize that just because Mommy and Daddy have know someone one “since before you were born” does not mean that the kids are going to have an instant bond with them, that takes time.
What it comes down to is: no means no, and stop means stop, it does not matter what age you are. You do not have to hug someone you don’t feel comfortable hugging. You need to be respectful of the other person’s limits, even when they’re three.