I came across this graphic on my Facebook feed a week or two ago. At the time I didn't think much of it other than passing agreement. Then I traveled for 5 days with my adorable red-headed toddler and I realized how caught off guard I am by people who think it's okay to poke his tummy, stroke his head, chuck his chin or grab his hand. And I realize I do this to little ones too!
It may be a fine line to tread between teaching our children to show respect for friends, kin and strangers (and we on their behalf) and to allow and even encourage them not to accept tickles, pokes or hugs when they are not open to that affection. But it's an important line. The bodies of women and girls in particular have been seen as fair game and we can reinforce this with girls and with boys without even thinking about it unless we are intentional.
In our Circle of Grace curriculum our children and youth learn about the space around themselves as inhabited by the Spirit of God, intent on their value and filling them with an inherent worth. Nothing should be allowed to violate that space. The children have an opportunity to think about what is allowed inside their Circle of Grace and what isn't. We tend to think about the things that go outside the Circle as things which we, their caregivers, would evaluate as a threat, or as 'creepy'. But sometimes even hugs and kisses from mom or dad might be put outside the Circle because they aren't feeling it. What's important is asking: Do you need a hug? Can I get a kiss goodbye? Is it time for the tickle monster? They might say no! That's okay. If caregivers and those close to our children can respect and protect the Circles of Grace of our children as they define them, they will be further empowered to name those boundaries in other situations.