There’s a growing conversation about healthy consent among adults, which is a good thing—awareness is key. However, at the same time, the conversation is an opportunity to educate kids about the basics of consent so they can develop healthy lifelong relationships.
The topic may not be the easiest one for you as a parent to bring up, but according to an article in Today’s Parent on the topic, you can broach the subject to kids as early as age three, and it doesn’t have to be specifically about sex. Here are seven tips to teach your kids about establishing boundaries and respecting them…
1. Lead by Example
Today’s Parent says permission regarding bodies can be taught right from the start, and you can actively take part by communicating your intentions to your children. For example, the source notes you can explain you’re putting balm on their skin during a diaper change—which gives the child a clear reason why you’re touching them.
On the same note, you can ask your child for permission for routine clothing changes—in the event they have wet pajamas, for example. “If you’re pressed for time and wrestling with a toddler who absolutely won’t get dressed, you can take control of the situation,” it adds, but explains you need to tell them why (you’re in a hurry).
2. Don’t Force Affection on Kids
It may seem harmless, but if you make your child hug a friend or even a relative against their will, it can be upsetting to them and break down barriers of trust. This applies even if you lean in for a kiss that your little one is not interested in.
“By teaching our children that they get to choose whom they hug, we are empowering them to be in charge of their own bodies,” explains ScaryMommy.com. It will be easier later in life for your child to comfortably turn down seemingly innocent situations that could lead to abuse or to engage in sexual activity before they’re comfortable, it adds.
3. Help Your Child Empathize
Healthy relationships often require the ability to put yourself in the other’s shoes to know how they’d feel or react to a certain action. The same applies to your young ones—if you can instill empathy in them at an early age, they will be less likely to cross boundaries uninvited.
An example from the Huffington Post is to highlight when your child may have hurt someone, but doesn’t seem to be aware of it. Tell them how their actions (such as hitting another kid) made the other party feel, and ask them to imagine how they’d feel if the tables were turned. Use a loving tone, so you don’t embarrass the child, it adds.
4. Teach Them a ‘Yes’ Can Become a ‘No’
Upworthy.com explains that you can teach your kids that even if they initially consent, that consent can be withdrawn the moment they don’t feel comfortable. The source uses non-intimate situations as examples—like playfighting with friends.
This line of thinking can be adapted to more intimate situations, of course. Teach them to say “stop” or “no” at any point, and to also respect when someone else expresses the same things.
5. No Response Doesn’t Equal Consent
EverydayFeminism.com talks about “enthusiastic consent” in a sexual context—which is an undeniable “yes” without any doubt. “However, introducing the idea of enthusiastic consent when discussing consent with children can combat much of the ambiguity that they might face down the line,” it explains.
Teach kids that getting no response (or giving no response) is not the same as a yes. Some kids may be unable to express a “no” out of fear or other reasons, it adds. Teach them to wait for the “yes” signal and not make assumptions.
6. Teach Them Boundaries are Rights
This Rewire article focuses on ways to teach kids about consent without sex entering the conversation. It says that it’s important to teach kids that consent is important to maintaining friendships (and any relationships).
Tell your children that people “have the right to set boundaries about their bodies, their possessions, and their actions, and we need to respect those boundaries,” notes the source. This will help reinforce positive behavior from an early age. “By framing consent in this way for kids, we’re laying the groundwork they will need to navigate situations in the future, including and beyond sexual interactions.”
7. Laughing Isn’t an Invitation to Continue
This one can relate to all age categories, but mainly kids—tickling. This can be tricky because to a kid, when they are poking or tickling someone, they see them laugh (probably involuntarily), and may take it as an invitation for more.
You can have tickle fights with your own children, but if they say, “stop,” then stop. If they ask you to tickle more, then you can continue the game, notes The Good Men Project. The same can be applied when you kid is playing with others—when they hear objections, they will (hopefully) cease tickling. And your child will (hopefully) will have the self-confidence to say no, and mean it, whether it’s tickling or something more.