Consent is one of the essential elements of a respectful relationship. How do we explain and teach this important idea to kids? Just keep it simple. It can seem more complicated when we overlay our adult experiences on it, however, you’ll send a clear message when you just focus on the basics.
1. Teach kids their body belongs to them, they decide what happens to it, and no one should touch them without permission.
Use the opportunities that come up in everyday life to talk with kids about consent; when they roughhouse, when they hold hands walking together to the park, when they sit close to each other on the couch watching TV. Teach them how to set boundaries and respect the boundaries of others. Model how to ask for permission and to accept no when that’s the answer. Consent can become a natural part of a child’s vocabulary and behavior with practice.
2. It’s okay to tell someone not to touch you. It’s not mean or rude.
We spend a lot of time teaching children to be respectful of other people and considerate of their feelings, so it’s natural for a child to worry that saying no will hurt the other person somehow. It’s essential to let them know they don’t have to allow something they’re not comfortable with to protect others. They need to know they’re responsible for setting healthy boundaries and the other person is responsible for respecting them.
3. Support kids when they say no.
It can be hard for kids to say no and they need to feel confident the adults around them will back them up when they do. When your child says “No, I don’t want a hello hug” or “I want to stop wrestling!” or “I don’t want to kiss Mom goodbye” to someone who has a hard time hearing it, it’s key that you stand with the child in that no. Without that support, kids learn that in fact, it’s not okay to advocate for themselves and that consent isn’t something you really believe in.
Consent plays an important part in our lives. It keeps us safe, helps us develop and maintain healthy relationships, and provides us with a sense of agency in our own lives. Teaching consent is a lifelong gift we can give our kids.