~ Shala K.
We want our children to be safe from people who might harm or hurt them so we teach them how to find help if they are alone or get lost. We even teach very young children how to call the police and where they go if there is a fire. Most of these actions are intended as protection if our children find themselves in a situation that we are not able to help them. We don't teach a 2 year old how to dial 9-1-1 because it would be impossible to explain the difference between an emergency and a non-emergency to a 2 year old. However, most children learn about using 9-1-1 in an emergency by the time they are 5 or 6 years old.
In teaching children about 9-1-1, we have decided that the child is able to understand the difference between an emergency and a non-emergency. We have determined that they are able to accept the responsibility that comes with knowing how to dial 9-1-1 and what happens when we do call. If a child dials 9-1-1 at the wrong time, the police will arrive at the home and lecture the children about when and how to use the emergency number. If the child who dialed 9-1-1 is too young to have dialed on purpose then chances are the parents will get the lecture about how to secure a phone properly. The idea is to help clear up any confusion about who is responsible to ensure that the 9-1-1 is not dialed in a non-emergency again. The person who called in a non-emergency isn't told NOT to call 9-1-1, but instead they are taught about when it is appropriate to call.
If we want our children to be able to tell their friends "no" when inappropriate things are happening then we need to support a child saying "no" when something is uncomfortable for them. We need to support them when they can't explain why they are uncomfortable and we need to support them even if it puts us in an awkward or uncomfortable position. This means that when our child doesn't want to kiss a family member or sit on a strangers lap then we need to support them in this decision right away without question.
The refusal by the child may simply be the child expressing their own social anxiety or they might be exercising their own independence. However, if it is a signal that something is wrong then you've taken the first step in showing the child that you respect their boundaries. Supporting them without question will help the child know who they can trust to support them even when the things they feel or experiencing are confusing or difficult to explain. Regardless of the reason that the child is uncomfortable, we can use the moment that they choose to say "no" as an opportunity to teach them something powerful about the world and our role as their support as they continue to navigate it.