We are an affectionate family. When the need to hug or kiss comes over us, we do it. My husband kisses me in the grocery store and I kiss him walking down the street on a Saturday afternoon. Hope has transformed her protruding tongue kisses into the sweetest little pecks and Henry spontaneously turns around when he’s sitting on one of our laps reading a book to give a kiss and get one in return. We hug and snuggle and are definitely not at risk for the impaired neural development that comes from a lack of touch.
So at school drop off the other morning when a little girl in Hope’s self-contained ABA class leaned in too close to get a better look at Hope’s raincoat, Hope assumed it was time to kiss. She tilted her chin up to this rising kindergartener and I stepped right in, telling Hope that there’s no kissing in school.
The teacher immediately took notice of what had just happened. It seemed our two mom hearts were melting over the sweet innocence of it—particularly in two children who have been taught behavior modeling since they were babies—but our rational adult brains knew a teachable moment had just occurred.
There was no fanfare to the event. It was quick, contact didn’t actually take place, and everyone moved on quickly. In fact, while I recognized Hope was offering up a kiss, I don’t know whether anyone else would have. The teacher noted to the girls that “you don’t kiss your friends,” and that was that.
Little people are so darn sweet. We figure Hope’s innocence is probably going to follow her around a bit longer than for other kids her age, but this was new territory for me. With behavior modeling so strong in Hope, what had happened (or didn’t happen) was a huge reminder that due to the 7-fold risk of sexual abuse of a person with an intellectual disability, we need to draw a firm line between what is acceptable with family versus how to behave around friends and strangers.
We’re not about to stop hugging and kissing our children, but it looks like we have some serious parenting duties heading our way! And an ugly world to take by the horns.