Understanding and learning to negotiate consent is a critical life skill. Knowing one’s rights and boundaries can help kids navigate tricky situations. And the earlier kids learn to practice consent the better able they will be at traversing life’s numerous dilemmas.
Most parents delusionally believe that consent only pertains to sex. However, that isn’t true. Consent is a part of daily life. It is the ability to manage boundaries and make choices in an assertive way.
Consent and respect go hand in hand and it is reciprocal – ‘I have a right to say no just as much as you have a right to say no‘.
Notwithstanding, consent is taught by modeling and practicing in the parent-child relationship first. You have to respect your children’s boundaries and not force them to do things they are not comfortable doing.
Talk, discuss and allow them to express what they like and don’t and why? Are there any alternatives – is there a middle ground. Knowing one’s voice matters is a huge confidence boost for a child. It builds self-esteem and a strong sense of self.
Moreover, practicing consent at a young age is a form of assertiveness training. It teaches them how to enforce boundaries and deal with bullies. Furthermore, when they have a firm idea of the concept of consent they are less likely to become victims of sexual predators.
Some Ways To Practise Consent From An Early Age:
1) Teach Your Child About Body Autonomy and Personal Space
Body autonomy is one of the most important lessons in consent. Teach your children from a young age that they have a right to decide what happens or doesn’t happen to their bodies.
Don’t minimize your child’s feelings when it comes to something seemingly innocent like hugging, or tickling. If they are uncomfortable with hugging someone don’t push them to do it. Support them if and when they refuse to be hugged or touched even if it is grandpa.
Don’t brush it off or laugh at them. Discuss the issue with them and respect their intuition and feelings. The lines between appropriate and inappropriate touch can get blurred when it comes to sexual grooming. Respect your child’s decisions – let them choose their level of contact based on their level of comfort.
2) Sharing Their Personal Information Without Permission
Be mindful of your social media habit, Are you posting pics of your kids without their consent?’ Be aware adorable baby pics can be an invitation to child predators.
Posting pictures of your child violates his or her privacy and leaves potentially harmful digital footprints well before the age of consent.
Ignoring a child’s pleas to stop posting pictures of them on social media can make them feel like they have no rights over their bodies and image. They might feel like they are not entitled to consent. It sends the wrong message to young, impressionable, developing kids.
2) Power and Authority Does Not Mean Free Access
As soon as your child can understand explain that certain people may have different levels of access to their bodies. Furthermore, just because someone is a doctor, teacher or pastor does not mean they have a right to touch them anywhere without their permission. Neither can they order them to do something that they don’t want to do.
Allow your kids’ space to voice their feelings about any authority figures in their life. Let them explore the concept that grownups can be bad – some of them can be wolves in sheep clothing. Reassure them that they unequivocally have a right to protest and report any untoward behavior towards them or their peers.
3) Allowing Them to Makes Choices Without Having to Explain
Like adults, children too have their own likes and dislikes. Allow them the freedom to make choices without explaining. Don’t shame or compare your child for his choices. They have a right to decide if they want to wear something or not, whether they want to play with someone or not, eat something or not.
Of course, there are some non-negotiables like they don’t have a choice to do drugs or drink. Walk them through the potential consequences of their choice. Pushing a child to do something he does not like will make him resentful. Unconsciously, they imbibe the lesson that people can push their own agenda and they have no autonomy. Which could lead them to be victims of manipulation and abuse.
4) Giving Kids the Vocabulary
A child needs the language skills to communicate – How to give consent? Or how to not give consent?
How to express what you like and not like? And how to tell someone ‘No’ – just stop this’.
Practice using words that denote consent or non-consent. If your child is playing with a ball ask your child ‘can I play catch with you?‘ Don’t just interject yourself into his game. Or if you are using a pen don’t just allow them to grab it from you, tell them they need to ask, ‘please can I use that pen?’
Furthermore, discuss with your child how to deal with a situation when they feel uncomfortable. Give them the right vocabulary particularly when it comes to their personal space and body. Use the exact names when identifying their genitals and other body parts. Studies have shown that children who lack sexual knowledge may be more vulnerable to abuse.
If a child is able to verbalize inappropriate touch with the proper words, it makes it easier to get to the truth and nail these perpetrators for their crimes.
5) Honing their Skills in the Art of Negotiation and Compromise
Consent is not static, it is open to negotiation and compromise. If someone agrees to something initially—playing with their toys—however, later they are allowed to revoke their permission at any time.
Or one can negotiate new terms of consent, I will allow you to play with my toy only if you let me play with your toys. I remember as kids my brother and I would be always negotiating about playing what we each wanted.
Negotiating consent takes practice and allows children to understand and respect both their own desires and those of other people.
8) Intervening and Stepping In
You don’t need to be constantly hovering around your child and be over-protective. But you need to intervene and step in when you feel someone is overriding your child’s personal sovereignty. When you see your child struggling with bullying, don’t let things slide, thinking ‘let him manage‘. Discuss the matter with them and find solutions on how to deal with the issue.
When we show fear or reluctance in protecting our children we send the message of helplessness – that they are powerless victims.
Moreover, parental intervention when they are unable to protect themselves teaches there are other options in dealing with toxic people.
Additionally, this is a good time to discuss concepts like coercion, when someone persuades you to consent to something against your will. You can also discuss how to set healthy boundaries with people, and what they should do if those boundaries are violated.
Laying The Foundation Early Avoids Later Problems
Prioritizing conversations around consent and boundaries at an early age lays the foundation for our kids developing strong moral compasses.
The young today face so many dilemmas and temptations. However, having a solid sense of what they will allow and not allow helps them handle peer pressure and coercion, Knowing they have a right to say ‘no’ and not allow people into their space if it makes them feel uncomfortable will save them from bad decisions like taking drugs or succumbing to unwanted sexual demands.
So, do teach your child about consent early, it is an important life skill that will empower them to make smart choices leading to a happier life.
Image Source: Pixabay
Let’s Talk About Body Boundaries, Consent, and Respect – Jayneen Sanders