Habitot Children's Museum
December 2017


Teaching Your Children About Consent

 

Most parents want their children to grow up with a good understanding of healthy boundaries and how to keep themselves safe and strong.  Though most parents wait until their young children are older to have “the talk,” it is never too early to start talking about consent.  Consent is not just about sex, it is about all touch – including hugging, tickling, and snugging – and our right to have a say about when and how we like to be touched.  Simply put, understanding consent helps people keep themselves safe.  It enforces that we all have the right to be in charge of our own bodies and what does and doesn’t happen to our bodies, and to respect that in others too.

Parents can model and talk about the foundational skills for learning about consent from as early as the toddler years, and then slowly build the ideas as the child develops.  Furthermore, teaching our kids about consent is not just one conversation.  It is lifelong learning that should start with very basic concepts when children are young and continue throughout their lives in ways that are relevant to them.  Here are some ways to create a culture of consent with your children, starting at a very young age.
 

  • Give your child the opportunity to decide when and how she wants to show affection. If she loves giving hugs and kisses to family and close friends, that’s great, but if your child is reticent, don’t force her. Giving her the choice of offering a smile, a high-five, or even an air kiss are all ways she can comfortably show affection even when she is not comfortable with touch.  It is important that she knows she gets to choose which feels most comfortable to her.
     

  • Teach your child to ask permission before touching or embracing a playmate. Use language such as, “Sarah, let’s ask Joe if he would like to hug goodbye.”  If Joe says “no” to this request, cheerfully tell your child, “That’s okay! Let’s wave goodbye to Joe and blow him a kiss instead.”
     

  • Teach your kids that "no" and "stop" are important words and should be honored.  This goes for stopping when others say no or stop as well as expecting others to stop when they say no. Let your child know that if a friend doesn’t stop when he says “no,” then he needs to think about whether or not he feels good and safe playing with them. If not, it’s okay to choose other friends.
     

  • Don't pout or cajole when your child says no to your affection. If you ask your son for a kiss on the cheek and he says not right now, smile and say, “Okay!”  He needs to know that the appropriate reaction to saying ‘no’ to physical affection is saying fine and moving on. Not a guilt trip, not anger, not sulking.
     

  • Practice consent through play. Play a game where you tickle each other until one of you says stop.  Once someone says stop, the other one has to stop.  This helps them practice both stopping when someone asks them to, and trusting that others will stop when they say it.
     

  • Teach your child about body language and social cues. No should always mean no, but there is more than one way to say ‘no.’ A large part of communication is body language and your child should learn to be attuned to non-verbal cues as well as verbal ones.  You may point out when another child has an uncomfortable look on their face, or a pet as their tail between their legs as examples of nonverbal communication.  Even if someone does not say ‘no,’ if they look uncomfortable or unhappy we should stop what we are doing.
     

  • Talk about "gut feelings" or instincts. Explain that sometimes, we feel weird inside when we sense that a person or situation isn't right, even if we can't really say why. Tell them they should always listen to that inner voice, that as human beings, our brains are wired that way in order to protect us from danger. Emphasize that they should respect their instincts. 

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