My son (2yrs old) has a best friend in our neighborhood. This little girl is fearless, outgoing, energetic and kind. Every time we play the dynamics have shifted a little, so they are constantly learning new ways to negotiate and interact.
Today, we reached a new “milestone.” After playing an exuberant round of “Hold Hands and RUN!” My son turned to his friend and said “Hug?” This wasn’t new, they give each a lot of hugs. After a squeeze from his friend, my son grinned and said “kiss?”
My first instinct was to grab my camera and cross my fingers (because, c’mon…cutest picture ever!). But then, the better parent in me showed up. I got down on his level and looked him in the eye. “You can ask her for a kiss. But if she says no then no kisses.”
He looked at her and said “Kiss please?” to which she grinned and replied “No!” So I looked at him and said “She said no kiss, so that means no kiss.” He had a minor look of disappointment and then ran away to play some more.
Such a small moment, but such important groundwork to lay. This is how kids learn that “no means no,” that they need to ask permission and that they aren’t owed anything. It is a lesson we’ve been working on since day 1…in both directions. He needs to ask permission, but people should also ask permission of him. I’ve told him from the beginning that if he doesn’t want to give a hug or kiss, he doesn’t need to. Sure, it breaks my heart when all his Grammie can get is a high-five, but he needs to know that his body and his wishes should be respected.
It is so easy to forget that the lessons they start on at 2yrs old carry a lot of weight. They pick up so much about how to interact with others and be able to navigate expectations. Usually, the stakes at this age are a little lower, and things are easier to explain, so you have a chance to put down some “base layers” that you can build on later.