Talking to children about consent

Hi Readers!

Do you like fries? I love fries! I promise this is relevant. Today we are going to talk about consent; more specifically, why it’s important to teach children about consent from a young age. I will give you some tips on how to do it.

Consent is when someone is explicitly agreeing (by choice) to an experience, whether it is sexual, touching, kissing or hugging. Every person has the freedom and capacity to make that choice.

So… going back to my F-R-I-E-S.1Consent has to be:

F reely given (the person doesn’t feel pressured, coerced or obliged to say yes);

R eversible (the person can change their mind in the middle of the experience and that doing so is their right);

I nformed (knowing all of the facts before agreeing to something);

E nthusiastic (the person is happy to say yes, there is no confusion or doubt);

S pecific (the person is agreeing to something specific; if there is something else involved they must explicitly agree to that, too).  

Now that you know how important consent is, you should think about this framework every time you give consent and feel confident and enthusiastic about saying yes. But, if you have answered no to any of the statements above you should not be giving your consent as you probably don’t know enough about the situation or don’t feel comfortable.

Clearly, explaining F-R-I-E-S to toddlers and very young children may not be that easy. I suggest you try explaining it to them as simply as possible; you know your child, children or your classroom best. Kids also learn through experience, so giving examples and going through this more than once will be beneficial.

Respect a child’s wishes when it comes to hugging, kissing, cuddling and tickling. The only exceptions are in matters of safety; for example, if a child needs to be restrained from hurting themselves or others. The big example here is ensuring that they are not forced to hug or kiss anyone, even grandma. Children need to choose their level of contact based on their level of comfort. While this may sound outrageous to some, as we usually greet people (especially grandma) with a hug and/or a kiss, why should we force children to say hello in this way or do anything else if they do not feel comfortable? To do so is to teach a child that a familiar person can touch them even if they don’t want them to and could lead to a child being unsure of what to do in an inappropriate situation. This completely goes against the F-R-I-E-S concept and the definition of consent.

If a child doesn’t want to greet someone with a kiss or a hug, teach them to ask for a high-five or a fist bump. And if that still makes them feel uncomfortable, a wave and a smile is perfectly fine, too! As long as your children are respectful and kind to others, does it really matter?

It is normal for children to want their own space sometimes and children are also allowed to set their own boundaries.

It is important to teach children the correct language for their body parts. I know it can feel embarrassing but using code words with you child (usually said in a lower voice) will in turn make you child feel embarrassed about using the appropriate words. We should be breaking the stigmas surrounding body parts by using their actual names. This also avoids any misunderstandings, especially if they need to tell an adult that something happened to them.

It is important to teach children that their bodies are their own and that no one has the right to touch them unless they ask for help. For example while toilet training, children may need help wiping their bum. It is important to start a habit of asking the child “would you like some help?” Look, I get it, most of the time it’s easier for an adult to clean up as the child may make more of a “mess” but this is how we learn, right?

Even if it is something as simple as adjusting a piece of clothing or cleaning their face because they have something on it, ask them first! Empower your child to make that choice. Obviously if they are harming themselves or someone else, you need to act fast! Use common sense.

Even though you shouldn’t have to, as a parent, you may find yourself having to explain to your friends and family that you are teaching your child about boundaries and consent if your child chooses to greets them with a high five. Might I suggest you send them this post and I’ll explain it to them for you.

Teaching the importance of reporting

You must teach your children that if someone violates their body, touches them inappropriately or crosses their boundaries, it is not their fault and that they need to tell an adult. Explain why it is important by going through the F-R-I-E-S concept.

These are lessons and reminders that need to be given often, consent is not a one-and-done concept. Many children know that they should immediately report to an adult they trust. That being said, it is important to continue having these discussions with your older children and teens as they may need reminding about what is not okay and who they can speak to about a violation of their privacy, body and boundaries.

Please take a few minutes to watch this video about consent for kids (and here’s one for adults too) and share it with your kids, family and friends. It is very easy for kids to understand this video but they may have some questions or you may wish to quiz them to make sure they understood what all this means.

If you have any more questions please contact me via email at depetrillojulia@gmail.com

Be kind to one another!

Julia, Sexologist

1Planned Parenthood https://www.plannedparenthood.org/

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