The Power of No

Speaking frankly about sexuality can be difficult with anyone. Bringing up and diving deep into this subject with your young son can be downright terrifying.

My son is seven years old, and absolutely clueless about sexuality. A few girls in his class have crushes on him, which have revealed themselves in some truly fantastic birthday cards and gifts for him. When the little girl down the street gives him a great big hug to say hello or goodbye, he accepts it with indifference and perhaps a small touch of enjoyment mixed with annoyance.

He is just like I was, and if he follows that trend he’ll live in complete oblivion until he is deep into teenage hood. That does not mean, however, my wife and I have ignored the topic with him.

Play consists of many things at that age. Many of the ways they play involves touching and being close as they rough house and act silly. Sometimes one member of the play becomes fed up with the way things are going and would like it to stop. This often manifests in a request being ignored until it is expressed with such fervent passion nearby parents have no choice but to rush in with scolding fingers held at the ready. This is known as Going Too Far.

As the Responsible Adults in this household, my wife and I have had many talks with both my son and my three-year-old daughter about listening and respecting when someone says stop. I stress this point perhaps to the point of unnecessary redundancy with my son. It is an ongoing conversation, as children require repeated reminders of everything.

My mother is a very strong and forward woman, who made her way from the bottom to the top of the corporate world where sexism and harassment was and still is rampant. She took great pains in teaching me how to be respectful of women. I’m sure much of that was based on her experiences in the workplace, but it was also just her nature to expect respectful and professional behavior from her peers.

Those lessons taken to heart, I married a similarly strong and forward woman who does not tolerate any disrespect or ignorance of proper personal etiquette. We work to ensure our children will be raised with similar values.

As I stated earlier, a major aspect of such values involves listening to another’s request for personal space. Another incredibly important point for our children to learn is the ability to say no, and enforce that request when it is being denied. Our daughters must know how and when to say no and how to enforce the request, and our sons must as well.

In the case of my children, who are far too young to really understand sexuality, these conversations are held under the pretense of Respectful Behavior Toward Others. Sexuality has nothing to do with it as far as they are concerned, but the lessons are still relevant. Knowing that they have the power to control who touches them and where, and when a touch is inappropriate, is relevant at any age.

The time to talk with our kids about these things is always now. That doesn’t mean, however, the conversation has to be painful. It can be a quick little reminder during play about listening when someone says no, and it can be a sit-down chat while they play with some toys. As long as it addresses acceptable and respectful behavior while allowing children the room to remain children the words will never be wasted.

Tinian Crawford is the battle tested father of two and husband to one. Aside from routinely electrocuting himself professionally he enjoys writing, making wood and wire sculptures, fielding endless requests from his kids and occasionally getting to speak with his wife. His work can be found at lifeoutsidethebox.me.

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