Am I teaching my toddler to trade affection for money?

My daughter has learned how to gives hugs. She gives great hugs. Personally, I believe, the best in the world. Of course, I might be biased.

In the neighborhood, Little Elephant is wonderful about sharing hugs with all our neighbors, adult and child. She usually gives them freely. However, sometimes, she doesn’t want to hug. At those times, neighbors will say “Little Elephant, if you give me a hug, I will give you some of my water” or “Little Elephant, if you give me a hug, I will take you to the play ground”. Of course, they say her real name. The things they offer are varying.

I am not at all condemning my neighbors actions. Heck, I bet I do it too.

That said, I have started to realize how we are teaching my daughter (and daughters– and probably sons- everywhere) to trade affection for favors and/or goods. What message does this send? Are we unintentionally teaching children that they affections are like currency?

Okay, you probably think I am going overboard and over thinking this. Maybe I am.


Abused children are often controlled because they think they deserved to be sexually abused because they were compensated. Children trafficked into prostitution may be convinced that they are good to be sold and traded. Self esteem may become interlinked with what they can “get” using their bodies.

Yes. There is a jump between asking for a hug and prostituting minors. However, is the underlying message the same?

***Disclaimer: Please note that I do not think my neighbors are intentionally sending this message nor do I see warning signs that my daughter is at risk of being sexually abused by any of them. I use this as a wider conversation piece and not as an attack on those in my life.


  1. (Got here from lesbianfamily) My daughter’s early years involved some less-than-healthy boundaries and in her two years with us I’ve been very clear that she (almost) always has the right to make her own decisions about who touches her body. She will refuse kisses or hugs and we back her up and I’m so glad she feels able to do that. I don’t think you’re overreacting, but it’s a dynamic many people never think about.

  2. Welcome Thorn! Also, thank you for hoping over (not to mention scrolling all the way down to this piece— one I thought about a lot but no one seemed interested in. Sadly, most of my favorite pieces and real questions fall into that category).

    In the situation of your daughter, I am so glad that she has a family that understands her past trauma and is willing to defend her no matter what decisions she makes. Feeling out of control about your own body is awful! And regaining that control, even as an adult, is a difficult process.

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