Setting boundaries: how to tell someone it’s not OK to touch your baby (without sounding rude)
You may have experienced it. While taking your new-born or toddler on a daily walk, a group of chatty women stop in their tracks with the exclamation, What a cute baby, can we see? You realise it's not a question but a statement, as your poor child is subjected to cheek-pulling, toe-grabbing and other uncomfortable gestures. Often, it might be your own near and dear ones who tend to touch and play with the baby without giving much thought to his or her discomfort.
Your instinct may drive you to shoo away such people, but that may just make you the most hated parent around! Relax. This does not mean that you should be okay with others touching your precious little one without your permission. There is the risk of infection, your baby may be disturbed, or the gesture may be threatening or inappropriate. Your baby's safety, security and comfort come first; and it is by setting boundaries that your child will learn about respect, consent and privacy. However, there are many ways to set boundaries tactfully. Here's what you can do to be a congenial mommy or daddy as well as a protective one!
1. Tell them- See but no touching:
The canoodling and cheek-pulling often starts with a simple question- Can I see your baby? Remember to point out just that, that the person can only see and not touch. A gentle yet firm statement like Yes please, seeing but no cuddling, or Baby wants to be with Mama now, but you can see and enjoy, can send across a firm but tactful message. This is a firm yet polite way to convey to your close ones about your ground rules and expectations when handling your child.
2. Take back or call back the child:
The next time you see close ones touching your child, either take back the child gently or call out to your child to come to you. While doing this, mention that you are teaching the child the concepts of healthy boundaries and privacy. Follow this up with a gentle request- ask the person to seek your permission before touching your child. The learning element will make the request more acceptable to the person. This is an especially good way to set boundaries with close family.
3. Ask your child for permission:
A subtler way to do this is to ask the child for permission. This is a symbolic gesture, you want to let the person know that setting healthy boundaries is a priority. It's also a great way to make your child learn and take decisions about safety and consent as he or she grows. After asking, you need not wait for an answer. With infants you can answer the question yourself to indicate your preference for not touching. This is a polite way to handle close ones.
4. Inquire about the child's feelings:
Similarly, you can try asking your child, How did you feel when person XYZ touched you? This will allow your child to speak up for himself or herself, at the same time communicating that you are conscious and concerned about unpermitted touching. Automatically people would think twice about touching your child, especially outsiders and strangers.
5. Use your baby as the reason not to touch:
You can tactfully use the very subject of peoples' (undue) attention to get them to back off. When someone reaches out to touch or hold your tiny one, tell them things like My baby may cry, or It's my baby's poop-time, and you will see most people happily back off. You may initially feel bad about tagging your baby as fussy or as a cry-baby, but hey, it's all for your baby's good! As they say, all is fair in love (for your baby) and war (against unsolicited touching)!
6. Create a physical boundary:
This technique can be used for toddlers and elder kids who are more independent. Step between your child and the person so as to create a physical boundary. You can start talking to the person to distract from your child. Another way is to loudly tell your child that it's time to leave, whisking him or her away from the situation. This may seem somewhat rude, it must be employed only when verbal and convincing means are not an option and you urgently want to salvage a situation.
Setting healthy boundaries right from childhood is a must to ensure your child does not face any type of misconduct or harassment. These learnings lay the foundation of a confident, trusting and secure human being who believes in self as well as others. A little leeway here and there in touching-rules is okay, touching is after all, a way to socialize and learn about the external world. But know with whom and to what degree that leeway is ok. As a parent, be observant of your child's reactions and listen to your parental instinct. It will act as the guiding light in setting the right boundaries and building the right physio-emotional attitude in your little one.
Author Byline: Rhucha is Mumbai-based writer and poet, travel entrepreneur, photographer and nature lover. She loves to freeze beautiful moments through her words and her lens, whether it is a wildlife expedition or a cute new born baby.
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