My 5-yo is affectionate with strangers.

“Dear Ignacio, My 5-year-old boy is a #curious loving child. When we go out, he often goes up to #strangers chatting them up and touching them or sitting on their lap. I like that he is #affectionate, but sometimes I worry about his safety. What do you suggest?”

These days, we commonly hear about not making children hug others, kiss them, or sit on their lap. But, what do we do with a child who willingly wants to touch others? Affirming the #agency of our children is a noble goal, however, when they are seeking to involve others, they also need to start developing #judgment. They need the skills to judge different types of interactions with those familiar as well as strangers. I don’t think bringing a stranger-danger attitude is helpful, as we don't want to scare our children and make them feel like they are bad for being affectionate with others. I think this is a good time to ask your child what hugging, touching, and sitting on someone's lap means to them. What emotions, messages, or stories do those behaviors convey for them? As you have this conversation, be sure to check your own judgements and assumptions at the door. Let them #communicate with you their thoughts and feelings through words, drawings, stories, or even songs.

I understand that there are #safety considerations, especially when strangers are involved. It is good to be clear about what that means for your family and what you consider inappropriate. Talking about bodily autonomy (including #consent and #boundaries) with children should also involve discussing bodily autonomy of others, stranger or not. So get specific with your child, do some role playing, #storytelling, and make it fun! There is no need to use fear or shame to keep children behaving safely.

I also want to acknowledge that the dynamics and realities of the situation can change dramatically depending on the child’s or the stranger’s race, perceived gender, disability status, etc. This a nuanced conversation that requires careful consideration for parents.

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