One of my children does not like to be touched. End.Of.Story. He spent two years avoiding holding my hand, being picked up, hugs, etc. You would think a child would want a parent to hold and cuddle them, but not all kids want this. There can be this fine line between autonomy and safety. If he ran toward the road, yep, I would pick him up even though he would pitch a fit. Thankfully, he rarely did this so it was mostly a non-issue.
It must be ironic that he is the child with a set of gorgeous curls on his head that tend to attract attention from adults. He has a sweet smile and chubby cheeks that make other people want to squeeze him and hug him. Heck, half the time he doesn't even want others to look his way so if they TOUCH him it is a huge trigger.
I understand that kids are cute and cuddly in theory. Mine is not. I understand that not all adults realize that autonomy is everyone's right and that we should not touch others, even kids, without permission. This may mean the child hugs us first or this may mean asking if you can give a hug to the child. I try to give people a heads up or quickly explain. The thing is that if I do this while out and about, we spend our whole day explaining sensory issues, vaccine injuries, and attachment parenting instead of enjoying the time we have together as a family. A couple of examples come to mind when I think about this issue of touch and autonomy.
One time we were at a local pharmacy looking around for something or other. My son finally decided he could walk and not be carried. (YAY) Then an employee said hello. My son had walked a few feet from me to explore, but I could see and hear him just fine. This employee was working and ended up between my son and I as she spoke to him. Then she tried to get him to high five her. Up until that moment all was fine. My son did not respond at first, I let her know he is not fond of strangers, and we left it there. It would have been perfectly okay, but she just HAD to offer that darn high five. My son sprinted away. He was not thinking of where he would go or that I was just a few feet from him in the other direction. He did not hear me call him. He was in fight or flight/panic mode. He felt his body was in danger all because of that high five suggestion and the fact that the woman was between us. I may have blogged about this before, but this is why I exercise. I may not be thin, but I am fast. I caught up to him seconds later and scooped him up. He was a heaving, sobbing mess. (No I do not suggest leashes unless the kid asks for one, but I do suggest one of those trackers that goes on a child's clothing if you have a runner who is older than toddler/baby age. You are the parent, though, so you make the choices. That is just my way of doing things.)
Another time a well meaning relative tried to help my son with a project. This relative gets along well with the child and is very patient with him. It seemed logical to use hand over hand assistance when something was not easy for him. Unfortunately, my son was not receptive and it surprised him so he proceeded to run around screaming and it took some time to calm him and work the situation out. We were at home and he did limit himself to our property. No safety issue there.
I won't lie. This sets us back. This might set back a typical kid as well. Please, please do not get between a parent and child as long as everyone is safe and no abuse is happening. Please, please do not touch a child you do not know. Many children are living with special needs these days due to environmental toxins. Many children are introverts. Children deserve autonomy because they are humans. If you accidentally do something that causes stress, apologize. You can set a positive example for the child and the parent will probably appreciate your thoughtfulness as you try to make amends and empathize with the family.
It is extremely difficult to have a child who does not like physical affection. It often leads me to worry about him. However, he is perfect and deserves to make his choices about how he interacts with others. I think sharing this information can help us all reassess our choices and respect the boundaries of others.