Teaching children about consent has become more important than ever. Consent is about allowing children to voice their emotions and say “no,” when something feels wrong or uncomfortable. It is a crucial part of their safety, and of our responsibility as parents, and yet within our communities we don’t talk about it enough.
The explosion of the #metoo movement is enough evidence that we need to actively start teaching consent to our children; not when they hit puberty, but as early as two years of age.
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It may sound like a complex concept, but some practices if made a part of daily life, can easily instill this value in your child.
Before they even learn to speak, children are learning by observing and copying all that is happening in their environment. It is essential that we ‘model’ consent by practicing it with our spouses, friends, and other children around them, so they begin to understand what ‘consent’ looks like.
When they are two, start with giving them a choice in expressing consent and then honour it. Please remember, they only get a choice in situations that don’t involve any health or safety hazards. Sitting in a car seat, going for a vaccination, adhering to their bedtime, or wearing a jacket when it’s two degrees outside would be some of the examples.
Some choices they can make
“Do you want to wear starry PJs tonight or these dino ones?”
“Which book are we reading; Elmer the elephant or The Very Hungry Caterpillar?”
“Can I kiss you goodnight?” Respect their answer.
Model consent by asking permission before you change their clothes or wash their body in the shower. Wait for them to say yes before you proceed.
“Can I help you wash your back now?”
Allowing Children to say NO!
Children must understand that ‘No’ and ‘Stop’ are important words, to be honoured at all times.
If you are tickling them and they scream “Stop, stop” even as they’re laughing and having fun, stop tickling them immediately.
Encourage your children to ask for permission before touching, hugging or showing any kind of physical affection.
For example, if Maha wants to hug her friend goobye, you can say:
“Maha, let’s ask Ali if he wants a hug right now!”
If Ali clearly says ‘No’, or does not say ‘Yes’, you can cheerfully ask your child to wave goodbye instead.
“That’s okay, let’s wave bye bye to Ali!”
Similarly, do not force them to receive affection either, even from their aunts or uncles.
“Would you like to kiss Aunty Asiya goodbye?”
If they say no, respect their choice.
“Its ok, you can wave her goodbye, or blow her a kiss?”
Why Children’s Consent Matters
As we aim for a more inclusive world, we have to remember that there are individuals amongst us with additional needs, who may not be comfortable with any kind of physical contact at all. This is another reason why asking for permission before touching or hugging someone is so important.
We must teach our children that when somebody says No, or Stop, they must discontinue their behavior.
“Ali said no, and when we hear No, we must stop what we are doing immediately. No matter what.”
Also tell them that their No and Stop has to be respected and followed through by their friends.
“If you don’t like something and say No, your friend should stop. If they do not stop, it is okay to not play with them anymore.”
Intervene on their behalf if you have to and politely let the other child know the importance of honouring someone’s No and Stop.
Resources about Children Consent
Reading a book about Consent also helps in making this concept easier and simpler for children to understand. It also gives you a range of characters and situations to talk about as examples. No Means No! by Janeen Sanders is a great book about Consent that can be read with as little as 3 year olds!
Teaching Consent has to be an ongoing dialogue with your child, not just a one time discussion.
I hope this article helps parents and caregivers ease in to this discussion with their little ones. I will highly recommend printing the above poster from http://www.elisegravel.com and pasting it on your child’s bedroom wall or door, so it’s always visible to revise and reinforce.
If you hit any roadblocks, or need answers to any questions or confusions, please feel free to write to me or leave them in the comments below.
Rafia Amber is an Early Intervention Specialist with seven years of experience working with children with additional challenges. Throughout her career she has supported children in developing their academic, sensory, social and communication skills, and overcoming challenging behaviours. Her experience ranges from one-on-one sessions in the home environment to classroom settings in inclusive schools and early intervention centers.
Rafia has recently started blogging onInstagram to share her expertise with parents and caregivers. She aims to raise awareness about unconventional concepts such as Body Privacy, Consent, Safe/Unsafe touch, Abuse Prevention Strategies etc, that are indispensable for a child’s development. You can follow her HERE!