Consent should be something we teach all children from a very young age and ensure that they know consent works both ways. We need to make sure children can so NO assertively and respectfully to something that makes them uncomfortable, but also to be able to accept no graciously. Children can become compliant and complicit at a young age and this can put them at risk from people with dubious agendas.
How to Teach Your Children about Consent
Teaching a child about consent means teaching them about boundaries. So it is important that you establish boundaries in your home and use natural and logical consequences when those boundaries are crossed as this gives children a feeling of security.
Explicit lessons about physical boundaries can begin as soon as children are becoming curious about bodies, which is around 4 years of old. The number one thing you can do is teach them to correctly label their body parts. Why we have to nickname our genitals is quite bizarre. We don't have cutesy names for our knees or arms, so why do we do it for our genitals? This is an important step for helping our children to stay safe.
You can set physical boundaries by reinforcing the idea that no means no and that children are not allowed to touch another person without permission. Duh- sounds simple but this is often not done with children. Think of the times when nana has demanded a hug and you have encouraged your child to do so when they are clearly reluctant. My body is nobody's body but mine! An important message kids learn when schools run the "Keeping Ourselves Safe" program.
Teach them to watch other people's body language. When someone squirms out of your way they are clearly letting you know they are not comfortable. Some children don't know how to say no so may use body language or other words to convey their message. 'I don't want to', 'Leave me alone'. 'Stop', all these messages clearly say no but when it comes to children some people think they can ignore that.
As parents we need to respect our children’s boundaries as well. We can model consent by not tickling, hugging, kissing, or wrestling our children when they say no or when they tell us to stop. Always encourage your children to ask for permission before showing physical affection—"Let's ask David if he wants a hug right now."
Remind them that if they are uncomfortable around another person that they need to tell someone they trust, and that secrets between a child and an adult are not okay! If you want to let a child in on a secret, like say - a surprise party, use the word surprise not secret.
Think about how we set boundaries with other people in our lives and model this to your children. If you have asked a friend to go out with you and they have said that they don't feel like it, accept their no. All too often we try and talk them round, maybe even telling them 'Don't be a piker-come out, you'll enjoy it once you go out' You are not accepting their boundary or their no, and children will learn that be cajoling or threatening other's you can get your own way- this is not healthy!
We need to help children to recognise their "gut feelings." Help them to understand that when we feel weird inside it might be because we sense that a person or situation isn't right, even when we can't say why- it just doesn't feel right. If we teach them to listen to that inner voice it is a way that our brain protects us from danger.
We can use examples from movies and T.V. to help teach them how to be critical thinkers. Help them to identify sexism in the world around them through music, television and movies. This is a great time point it out and ask them what they think. It is not very common that we see verbal consent in movies so when you are watching a movie with a kissing scene with your children, this could be a good time to discuss if they thought consent had been asked for, or how the consent was given.
Talking to your child about consent doesn’t have to be a big deal. Make it part of a casual conversation and break it into small pieces. It is easier to have lots of small interactions and conversations because this will build your child’s trust and they will understand that it’s okay to talk and ask questions about these issues.
For a bit of a light hearted look check out this blog:
There are some really good web sites for all ages that you can show your children to open up discussion and to let them discover more on their own.
These are great little clips to show and teach children about their bodies and consent.