Consent is an essential part of understanding body autonomy, body boundaries, and sexual abuse prevention. But, consent can be a tricky topic to teach kids.
Building these skills at an early age, will set a strong foundation for your child when they need to implement these concepts at school, or in uncomfortable situations. Below are three key elements for young children to learn about consent and how to teach this to them in a kid-friendly way.
Kids have the right to be the boss of their own bodies.
Teaching a child this concept can start at an early age when they are developing language and learning about physical touch.
An easy place to start is by modeling the behavior. While your child is watching you, ask your partner for a hug.
You: Can I have a hug?
And give the hug.
The next day, same scenario…
You: Can I have a hug?
Them: No, not today - how about a high five?
Showing kids that there are choices with physical attention is a great way to introduce this concept. Kids are little sponges. As they see these interactions they will absorb. They will copy you!
Take this a step further by asking your child for consent. For example- if your child is potty training you can ask, “Do you need help with the potty?” ( If you are pretty much at that stage where they just about have the wiping and washing covered)
If you get a yes, go help.
Then talk during the situation.
You: I’m going to help you clean up a little bit, is that ok?
If you get a no, let your child know that they can do it themselves and you are ready to help if they need.
Kids can change their minds - you can help your child learn this concept by having a “what if?” scenario conversation. Maybe after reading a story you could talk about a scenario your child might encounter.
For example, “What if your cousins are over and they are playing too rough and they start wrestling. If you start playing with them… can you stop? Can you change your mind? What could you say if you got tired of tackling and wrestling? What would you do if they kept wrestling or playing rough?”
Generating kid-based situations and brainstorming solutions to kid-problems is a very helpful way to start talking about and teaching about consent.
Kids can say no to all unwanted touch. Because learning body boundaries is so important in any sexual abuse prevention plan this point is key.
Kids should be allowed to say no to hugs, kisses, tickles, lap-sitting, wrestling, rough play, or any form of touch. Sure, you can teach them how to do this politely by saying no thank you. But, it is super important that they have your support here and don’t get mixed messages.
When teaching private part body boundaries and rules, your kids need to be familiar with how to give a NO! And stand up for themselves if somebody breaks any body boundary.
If aunt Mary (the tightest hugger and biggest kisser this side of the Mississippi) comes over for Christmas and always hugs and kisses people to death… discuss a strategy before the tight hug or the smooch. You can give Aunt Mary a heads up about how your child is learning about consent and prefers high fives. You can model the desired behavior first by stepping in front of aunt Mary and saying, “It is so great to see you! I would love a high five this year. I’m not in the mood for hugging today.”
Or, you can be on the ready when Aunt Mary arrives. You can watch your child speak up for herself and say, “I don’t like hugs! But I love high-fives! I am happy to see you!” If your child needs back-up, you will know what to do! You can always intervene if Aunt Mary doesn’t listen or take your little one seriously.