Consent is a topic that is being widely covered in the media, as high profile celebrities and politicians are being accused of inappropriate behavior and violation. A large part of ending this type of behavior is teaching young children about the importance of consent and agency over one’s body. It’s not too young to teach your children some valuable lessons.
Modeling consent is key. While sometimes it may seem as if your young child is an extension of you, he is his own person, with his own preferences and the right to have autonomy over his body. Ask your child if you can clip his nails, comb his hair, or wash his face before doing so. In the bath, ask him before you wash each part of his body. Even the act of giving him choices by asking him to choose which t-shirt he wants to wear or what kind of sandwich he wants for lunch can help him to feel as if he has more agency over his body.
Don’t push affection. While your kind neighbor, best friend, or even one of your child’s grandparents may want a hug and a kiss when they see your child, leave the choice up to your child. The momentary disappointment of an adult is not as important as your child’s comfort and ability to choose what to do with their body. Ask your child if they would like to greet their uncle with a kiss, but give them the option of a hug a high five, or blowing a kiss.
Talk to your child about safety and danger. Let your child know that certain parts of their body are always private, and that includes the area covered by their bathing suit. Let them know that while caregivers may give them a bath and doctors may need to examine them, if anyone else touches them in that area, they should say “no” and either call out or go to find someone they trust. Let them know that they should tell you if anyone ever touches them in this area, and that even if someone tells them to keep it a secret, they never have to keep touching a secret from you.
Let your child know that consent goes both ways. Talk to your child about their own behavior as well. They should not touch anyone else’s private areas, and shouldn’t look, even if another child asks them to do so. Your child may be very curious about other peoples’ private parts, and you can let them know that they are welcome to ask you any questions they like.
Continue talking about consent beyond childhood. As your young child becomes a teenager, keep the conversation going. You can let your child know that she can come to you with any questions about her body, what other kids may be talking about or doing, and whether she should do something with her body that she is not certain about.
Have you started to talk about consent with your young child? How have your conversations gone? Let us know in the comments section!