Thursday, January 12, 2012

"No-No": The Body Autonomy of a One-Year-Old

My daughter had her one-year check-up today, which also means that she had to get shots.

This was the first check-up she's had that she's been able to talk a little. She only knows a handful of words (that I can understand--I'm sure she thinks she knows a lot of words), but one of them is "no-no," and she knows it well.

She knows it when she finds a piece of plastic on the floor. She brings it to me, shaking her head and saying "no-no" so I can throw it away. She says it when she goes over to the bookshelf and points to the books she knows she's not supposed to throw all over the floor. She says it to the dogs when they're barking. And she says it to people who try to make her do things she doesn't want to do.

So, today at the doctor's office, it started with the ear check. As the doctor tried to put the otoscope (yes, I just looked up what the ear-check thingy is called because I felt silly writing "ear-check thingy" into the sentence) into her ear, she pushed her hands away, shook her head, and said "no-no." I had to hold her hands down so the doctor could finish her examination.

Then, when it came time for the shots, she was pretty brave for the first one, not even crying. The second one upset her, and by the third one she was having no more of this. She was trying to get up off the table, kicking her leg to the side, and saying "no-no" to the nurse. Again, I had to help hold her still so the nurse could finish the vaccination.

My daughter calmed down pretty quickly and she left in a good mood, but I couldn't help but think about how her young mind might be interpreting these occurrences. I know that it's important for her to get the vaccines and get her check-ups, so I'm not suggesting that she shouldn't or that the doctor or nurse did anything wrong. I just find this to be a difficult spot: she's old enough to know that she doesn't want it to happen, she's capable of vocalizing that wish, but she's not mature enough to understand the explanation for why it is happening.

It made me think of some other concerns I've read about body autonomy and children.

In "Now . . . Give Your Uncle a Kiss," Yashar writes about the problematic messages we send to children when we force them to hug or kiss relatives and friends against their will: 

I acknowledge that some kids are just being difficult, but it’s not about their motivation so much as it is about our reaction. At that moment, we initiate a process where we require boys and girls to have physical interaction when they don’t want to and at that moment, we also tell them to ignore their sense of self-trust. We are teaching kids that adults are in charge of who they should be and are affectionate with. We are telling them that they don’t have the right or power to make their own decisions about human, physical interaction.
Again, it’s the little moments that create a big collective weight over time.
 I also remember reading a post from a mom (which I can't find now, so if anyone knows what I'm talking about, please send the link!) who always asked her toddler if it was okay to change her diaper. She said there were occasions where her daughter would say "no," and she would respect that, knowing that her daughter would soon say "yes," and the diaper would be changed. She said that the lesson of other people having to respect her physical boundaries was more important to her than an immediate diaper change. 

These are things I had never even thought about before. It is really important to me that my daughter feel in control of her body and what happens to it. I know that she is learning how the world works right now, and I know that I need to be attentive to the little ways she might be picking up that lesson (or not). Sometimes I just don't know the right way to balance this concern for her well-being with other concerns for her well-being. 

What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. I am very into personal body space with my 3-year old right now. He's just not affectionate. At all. The day he was born he tried to wriggle out of my arms the first time I held him against me to burp him.

    So we've been working on things he can say when he doesn't want to be touched in a certain way. Simple things, because he's 3: "Stop that," or "Please don't." And we teach him that it's fine to say it to US, too, because this is his body and he is in charge of what he wants to happen to it. Once, he said, "But if I don't hug people it makes them sad." To which I replied, "That's OK. Other people can be sad. They'll be happy again later."

    A good friend who is involved in a subculture where consent and non-consent are taken quite seriously, also suggested I teach my son positive language, too: "That feels good!" or "I like that!" so he knows touch can be good, too.

    I admit, it's hard sometimes when I want to snuggle my little boy and he pushes me away saying, "Please don't, Mommy." But this is how he learns confidence.

    And it's even harder with other family members who think I'm being weird or don't understand that I'm trying to give my son the tools he'll need to protect himself as he grows up. That's when I step in: "He doesn't want to hug you right now," or "[Son], it's OK if you don't want to kiss Grandpa. How about a high-five?"

    I hope I'm doing my job right. At least teaching my son all this, tough as it might be, feels about 100x better than those scare tactics they used on us in the 80s, when we were all taught that basically everyone in the world wants to molest you, and probably already has. *shudder*