I just got a call from my 6-year-old daughter’s school about her having kissed a boy on the mouth. When I asked her about it, she said she doesn’t want to be his girlfriend and he “wants me to do stuff I don’t want to do, but I won’t tell him that because when I do he gets mad.” What do I do?!
Thought I Had More Time
As you’ve unfortunately learned, it’s never too early to start teaching kids about consent, bodily autonomy and self-advocacy. I’m sure it’s a terrible reality check that conversations you’d assumed could happen a decade from now actually needed to happen yesterday. But the good news is that you can start now, your daughter opened up to you about what’s happening and you have a channel to discuss with the school.
I encourage you to think first about how physical contact is treated in your family. Is your daughter ever pinched on the cheek by an older relative or told, “Go give Grandma a hug,” without a choice in the matter?
If so, change that practice today. Every proposed hug, tickle or sign of affection is a chance for children to practice their self-determination about physical contact. If you already give lots of choices (for example, “Do you want to wave, fist bump or hug goodbye?”) then tie those choices into what’s happening at school. “Just like you never need to kiss me goodnight if you don’t want to, you never need to kiss anyone just because they want you to.”
Playing with dolls or stuffed animals can also provide lots of healthy practice with setting boundaries. You and your daughter can take turns tickling or hugging a dolly and stopping when “the dolly” says stop.
Think of it almost like a red light/green light situation. It’s great if you can make this kind of play lots of fun, knowing that she’ll internalize the fact that her words have power and that she can make people listen. You can also practice what happens if the big mean teddy bear gets mad when the stuffed tiger doesn’t want a hug. Kids work out a lot through their play, and with a little direction from you, your daughter may get some big benefits. (And if you were the parent of the boy in this story instead, I’d still recommend this kind of role-playing.)
Of course, as she and you have already seen, there are other factors involved, too, including that other people don’t always listen. This is where communication with the school comes in. They should be offering age-appropriate lessons in consent as well (even as little as, “When someone tells you to stop, you need to stop.”). They should also be supporting your daughter and her classmates in knowing how to talk to a trusted adult when a peer won’t listen to them or they feel unsafe in any situation at school.
And, beyond these general lessons that are true for all schools, they should have extra eyes on this boy in your daughter’s class and on interactions between the two of them. Ask the teachers and administrators their plans for following up, and plan to check in about how things are going in the classroom.
Finally, classmates and schools and specific situations will come and go, but you are a constant in your daughter’s life. Making sure she knows that she can always talk to you will be an enormous benefit in helping her navigate all sorts of difficult situations in her life.
Though I’m sure you wish she hadn’t kissed this boy, making sure that she knows you aren’t mad at her and that she can make a different choice next time will set the stage for a lifetime of trust between you so that the next time you’re faced with a difficult conversation — probably sooner than you would like — you’ll both be ready to open up and problem solve together.