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Hey, Kid, You are the Boss of Your Body

"Excuse me, please! I have something to say: It’s my birthday, and I’m tired of being pinched, noogied, hugged too tight, picked up, grabbed, tickled, and touched in ways that I don’t like. I’m six years old and I’m the boss of my body!”

I read these words to my 5-year-old boy from the book “Miles is the Boss of His Body.” Miles had endured a series of events that most kids, my son included, strongly relate to: an older brother gave him birthday noogies, an excited mother hugged him extra tight, a stranger rustled his hair, and a loving dad lifted him into the air. All harmless. All typical.

But Miles had a point: he is the boss of his body! If something doesn’t feel good, he has a right to say no.

I looked over at my boy as I read the book, reading his face along with the story. How many times have I told him to give Grandma a kiss, when he really didn’t want to? How many times have I grabbed and tickled him when he wanted to be left alone? Does he know that he can say “no”? And that other people can say “no” because we are all bosses of our bodies?

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If we don’t respect his body, how can he give that same respect to other people?

**

“Oh! So today I watched a video about my penis,” he said from the back seat of the car, fresh out of Kindergarten.

My ears perked.

“They said if anyone tickles your penis,” he said while wiggling his tiny fingers, “even if it’s, like, your uncle, and they say it’s a secret, then that’s bad. I should tell you.”

Ah yes, Personal Safety Day at school. For some reason, I assumed the kids would recite their phone numbers and addresses, and learn what to do if they get lost in a mall or something. But, of course, personal safety. He’s at the age of uh-oh touches and private parts. (Which, I’ll be honest, the latter has been a consistent topic in our house because dude will rip off his pants in front of anyone. Heeeere’s my penis! Ta-da!)

The very cliché “private parts” conversation isn’t just about etiquette and privacy, unfortunately. Considering 90% of sexual abuse happens to kids by someone they know, kids need to know about safety.

“Because I’m the boss of my body, right?” he winked at me from his car seat.

Yes. Yes you are, kid.

**

“You’re making me feel sad!”

Here we go again. The Blame Game, as we like to call it. As I’ve told him before, no one makes him feel anything.

“You feel sad because” I correct him.

“Don’t put your hands on me. I am the boss of my body and I said no!” he declared with such conviction, such dramatic inflection, that my breath caught.

It’s important for him to take ownership of his feelings. Being the boss of his body means his entire body. Not just the skin and penis and hair, but also the emotions and moods and mind chatter. He’s the boss of his outsides and his insides.

Kids have very little control in their day-to-day lives, so teaching kids that they have control over their feelings and thoughts — that no one can take that away, not even a parent or teacher — then that’s pretty empowering.

No one can make us have a bad day, or put us in a bad mood, without us allowing it. We are responsible for our feelings, and we have to understand what those feelings mean. We also have a choice in how we react to situations. We are the bosses of our bodies!

**

He was outside playing with the older boys, as he does. Most of his neighborhood friends are very protective and careful with him, given their age gap. But there’s one kid — a smart-mouthed 7-year-old — who can get a little aggressive. I knew not to go too far.

“Stop it!” I heard my son’s big boy voice cut over the colliding conversations.

“Don’t put your hands on me. I am the boss of my body and I said no!” he declared with such conviction, such dramatic inflection, that my breath caught.

And then a wide smile spread across my face.

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You tell him, I thought.

Knowing he’s the boss of his body and understanding why he’s the boss of his body is a good start, but he needs to be able to speak up and say it.

In that moment, he was in charge. He was the boss.

And I knew he would be okay.

Photo by Michelle Horton

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