A powerful message from Girl Scouts to parents: Don't force your daughter to hug a relative, even if they do something nice or it is a holiday. The organization believes that small gesture can cause problems later in life.
Katie Sheppard is teaching her two kids that speaking their mind and having opinions is okay.
"There are certain times that you really need to be aware of your child’s actions and their responses and things that they’re doing," said Sheppard, "Especially if you know it’s out of character for them."
It is why this message is making sense to her.
"The kid could be uncomfortable with it just because the touch is uncomfortable for them or there may have been something that happened previously or maybe it’s just the kid. That’s okay," said Kathleen Kempke from the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.
Kempke says whatever the reason giving girls a choice on how to show affection is a good idea, like a high five, a smile, or air kiss.
"For the parents to be able to problem solve and come up with what can you do to show them that you’re happy to see them, it’s very easy and keeping the physical contact out of it," said Kempke.
Girl Scouts say telling a little girl she "owes" someone for something nice, like a gift during the holidays, can make her question whether she owes physical affection in the future when someone buys her dinner or does something nice. This message comes at a time sexual harassment is the forefront of conversation.
Kempke says talking to your child about good and bad touch can help them understand how to say no.
"I think every parent will know but I don’t think it’s too early to start at four or five, talking about their body and that their body is to be respected," said Kempke. "A four or five-year-old doesn’t know what consent is but if they are empowered to be able to say no that is an early lesson that they will have in the learning that."
Kempke says it is also a good idea to speak with the relative and fill them in on why their child does not want to hug or show physically affection.
"Relatives, especially extended family, are only around the children a certain amount of time, so they only know them from what their shown and what they see during that period of time," said Sheppard. "They don’t know what’s going on in the background or what a child’s going through. I think it’s a simple matter of communication."
In a statement, following the article, Girl Scouts USA writes:
Girl Scouts of the USA offers advice to parents and families of girls (including current Girl Scouts) about how to talk to their daughters about issues in the larger world that they might be hearing about or that might be directly affecting them. Given our expertise in healthy relationship development for girls, and in light of recent news stories about sexual harassment, we are proud to be able to provide parents and caregivers of girls age-appropriate guidance to talk about this and other challenging topics should they wish to do so. Obviously, the advice we offer will not apply in all situations or circumstances, and we recognize parents and caregivers as those best to judge topics and conversations that are in the best of their girls and families.