Part of nurturing with touch is knowing when not to touch. As a kid, I used to pee my pants during tickle fights. My family didn’t mean to embarrass me, but they didn’t understand. I desperately wanted to participate in the family fun, but it was humiliating to lose control of my body in the course of doing so. And I wasn’t assertive enough to speak up about my discomfort.
Now as a parent, I try to be respectful of my son’s need for bodily autonomy. He still feels like part of me sometimes, like when we’re all snuggled up nursing. But the truth is, he’s his own person with his own “space bubble,” and sometimes he doesn’t want me in it! To help ensure we’re respecting our son’s physical space, I came up with a simple three-pronged approach:
- Announce your intentions
- Go slowly
- Watch for a reaction
For example, we play “tickle chase” with our toddler. First, I announce, “I’m gonna TICKLE you!” Then I give him a head start and get on all fours and chase him. He giggles a ton and usually lets me catch him after a while. If he lets me catch him, I tickle him; if not, we just keep chasing, or he can go play with toys or ask to be picked up. By applying the three steps to our tickling game, my husband and I end up tickling lots, but only when our son wants to be tickled.
I apply these steps to kissing too. I sometimes announce that I’m going to kiss him, but more often I make a ridiculous “mmm” sound. Then I pucker up my lips dramatically and lean in. I go slowly enough that my son has time to turn away if he doesn’t want to be kissed, in which case I say, “No kissies? Okay!,” and we go play something else. If he wants to be kissed, he opens his mouth wide, leans in, and/or says “mmmm” right back at me. He gets lots of kisses, and I like them all the better for knowing they’re wanted.
By following these three steps, you give your baby/child time to process what you’re about to do and then express their reaction. Every kid is different, but you’ll quickly learn which reactions (like shoving his foot into my hand when he wants his toes tickled!) means your little one wants more physical interaction, and when they’ve had enough for now.
It can be disappointing at times that my son doesn’t want to be kissed or tickled every time I offer. But I’m glad that I’m respecting his wishes and his space. I hope that it helps lay the foundation for a lifetime of respecting his own body and the bodies of those around him, and of knowing that his mom and dad think his needs and wants are important.
Photo credit: Author
Maman A Droit is a conservative Catholic stay-at-home mom in the Midwest with a breastfeeding, co-sleeping son (born July 2009) and a hubby who’s been known to babywear on occasion. She’s also fond of printing off applicable state laws on breastfeeding in public to stash in her diaper bag whenever she travels. She blogs at Maman A Droit.