Teach consent early

Consent is a buzz word we hear all the time. I’m going to explain what it is and why it’s important for you, the parent to know what it is.

What does Consent mean?
Consent is a when we give permission for something to happen or we are in agreement to do something.
When does teaching consent start and how do I teach it?

The word consent has become very much part of conversations related to intimacy and sex, which generally relates to young people who are in adolescence and older. Intimacy and sex are already charged topics and if you the parent are trying to engage in a conversation with your child about sex and intimacy, sidestepping into a conversation about consent can make it all the more challenging. However if the topic of consent is something that has already been addressed with your young person then the conversation around sex and intimacy should progress more smoothly. If we are talking about and practicing consent in other, less charged but equally important areas then we are in a better position to find our voice when we need it to ensure our young person’s personal safety and choice when in an intimate engagement.

 Consent starts when children are very small but still relates to the areas of personal boundaries.  Our children are individuals, separate from their parents. They have their rights just as adults do. We need to listen to our children when they say “No I don’t want to kiss you” (or my aunt who smells of rose water). In situations such as, being with family members who wish to show affection to your child, give the child options of how to socially engage, such as “You a give them a kiss or a high 5”. When they are very young, their brains are forming all the templates for expected social interactions as well as their sense of themselves, who they are and what their own (later established) values are, it all starts here.

 When they are very young, they will do what you say so empower them to have control over what happens to their bodies and to listen to what their internal drives communicate such as “I don’t want to be close to that person” .

 As they get older (from early primary school) we now need to teach them about respect. If their boundaries have been respected, they are more likely to respect others’ physical boundaries. They still need to be taught this and it needs to be reinforced constantly. Where there are siblings who are bickering and picking on one another, once it gets physical and one party says “Stop”, children should be instructed and complimented for stopping when requested.

 Let’s get somethings straight, making children and young people aware of what consent is and when it is needed is not going to make them jump into bed when the first chance presents itself. That’s like saying teaching someone to drive means they will joyride as soon as they are behind the wheel of a car. You’ll agree that’s ridiculous!? Instead, this knowledge will make them more aware, cautious drivers. Teaching them about consent is no different.

My son is now six and since he was really tiny, before he could speak I practiced the following :
  • No kissing of any family member or friends without his consent. Options were given for kiss or high 5. He chose NEVER to kiss anyone only myself and his dad and only in the past year has he begun to kiss my mother (initially she was horrified I was demanding this but I think she sees the sense in it now)
  • From when he was 1, when I was changing his nappy, putting on cream on his body or doing anything to his body I told him “ I need to change your nappy now” or “I am putting sun-cream on your face”. This makes the child aware that something is happening, they can prepare their body to be touched and it is not a surprise.
  • As soon as he was learning to use the big toilet he was left alone and told “You need your privacy”. He could not even say the word privacy at the time but he sure can now. 
  • When he touched my breasts in public when he was under 3 and then also in private when over 3, I gently communicated that was a private part of my body and that he didn’t have my permission to touch it. When he said I don’t understand (the word permission) I waved my finger and said “Mammy says no touching my breasts” . Rules around private parts should be hard and clear and reinforced often, every time they naturally come up in conversation and then some more.
Let’s Talk About It

Have you found it tricky or difficult teaching your children consent?