Bodily autonomy of young children: mothers’ perspectives of appropriate acceptance or rejection of affection for their toddler and preschool aged children

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Ireti A. Adegbesan (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Danielle Crosby

Abstract: Young children’s understanding of autonomy related to their body and touch has received relatively little attention in the developmental sciences even though children's understanding of basic principles related to their identity start to take shape during this period. Addressing this gap in the literature could help inform efforts to develop a lifespan curriculum around consent, so that children learn about bodily autonomy and consent in a developmentally appropriate way. Informed by symbolic interactionism and feminist theory, this qualitative study incorporated both focus groups and semi-structured interviews with 21 mothers to examine their perspectives on bodily autonomy of young children ages 2 to 5. The study’s findings reflected mothers’ experiences, perspectives, beliefs, parenting philosophies and behaviors related to the following five themes: (1) Maternal Bodily Autonomy Socialization, (2) Connection Between Mothers’ and Children’s Socialization, (3) Children’s Bodily Autonomy Socialization, (4) Maternal Advocacy, and (5) Complexity of Violation. Ultimately, all of the mothers in the study were pro-bodily autonomy and acknowledged the importance of children being given choice; however, there was considerable diversity in the experiences that shaped their perspectives and the socialization strategies they used with their children, suggesting there is no one size fits all model for socializing children about bodily autonomy, affection, touch, and consent. This study provides an initial empirical basis for conceptualizing ways to support and develop young toddler and preschool aged children’s bodily autonomy and represents a starting point in helping parents, families, educators, children, and the public understand the importance of pro-bodily autonomy socialization in a world where this is not yet widely appreciated or recognized.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2021
Affection, Bodily autonomy, Consent, Mothers, Preschoolers, Toddlers
Autonomy in children
Choice (Psychology) in children
Mother and child

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