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How to Teach Your Child Well About Consent

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Teaching children about consent and body privacy

What does teaching children consent mean to a five-year-old vs a 16-year-old? Well, it should always be the same: a choice to say Yes or No which then has to be respected and followed through. Teaching children consent means they are giving you permission to touch them. This means if your child is asked to hug, shake hands, playfight, etc they must give consent. You should never force a child who does not want to do those things because you are then unintentionally teaching children they have no power over their bodies. If you force a child into such interactions, you are setting a pretense that consent is based on an adult’s terms. 

Once your child has understood that they are in control of their body. You then need to teach children to practice saying, NO and Stop. I highly recommend you make them practice using a mirror or on video. Let them feel their words and let them feel powerful. If you have younger children let your eldest teach them how to use those words.

How you go about explaining consent to a 3-year-old may be slightly different for a school-aged child, but the sooner they understand consent the quicker you are creating a positive association between them and their bodies. Allana Robinson from Uncommon Sense Parenting is an amazing parenting coach for children under the age of 5 years old. She explains teaching children to understand consent by having them relate with a feeling of an “enthusiastic YES! anything less than that is not consent.” You can access more on her tips here.

As a mom, I am always a little more concerned about consent and body parts because of my years in the social service field. As a caseworker, I was responsible for teaching children about safety precautions with my young clients. I unfortunately also had to handle a few cases of sexual abuse and incest. I do believe having worked with some cases where body parts were invaded has left me a little more on high alert as a mom and teacher compared to those who have no experience with it.

As a teacher and a mom of boys, I have a hard time with the way boys pee in public places or even in schools with urinals. Maybe it’s because I am a woman, but I do not understand why all boy washrooms do not have dividers and some form of door. Better yet, why not put the urinal in a bathroom stall this way there is complete privacy. We do not make girls pee in the toilet with simple dividers, so why do we do it with boys? It boggles my mind because it sets the tone that somehow sexual abuse or sexual misconduct cannot happen between boys.

All I can say is that my experience counters that belief system. Some boys will invade another boy’s urinal and laugh or point or touch a penis. It is not because they are children that they cannot do harm. I believe having doors for boys and girls offers some form of a safety jacket, but with a no-door policy, we are leaving our sons vulnerable. I am well aware that I cannot change the world, but I can definitely help empower my child. The best way to teach children to feel powerful is by talking to them about consent and creating an emergency plan. This way if something should happen they know whom they can turn to for help.

Because I have seen some not-so-nice cases with young children, I really wanted to create a freebie document with a worksheet for body parts and consent that you can download and use to teach your children. It is called Your Body, Your Right. This 19-page pdf is organized so that each activity includes a mom guide. It explains what the purpose of the activity is all about. You can do this activity with any school-aged child. Get your free download here.

Some things you will notice when teaching children about body parts: I use actual words to describe private body parts. It is so important that children do not give nicknames to the vagina or the penis. You want to create a positive association with their body parts. You also want to show them you are open to any questions they may have about their body. Young children may laugh, because they may just be simply embarrassed, or lack maturity. You need to make their feelings ok without scolding them. An older child may not voice as much or may feel also embarrassed. But their reaction can be less than enthusiastic. Once again, the goal is to make your space open and positive.

The booklet has a series of activities around themes for what is consent, body parts, good/bad secrets/surprises, and creating an action plan. The action plan is where you and your child both sign the contract: A promise you make to keep their body safe. You can then decide with your child where you can put the contract.

I want to say one final thing, the more you talk about consent and encourage your child to exert their consent the likelier your child will confide to you in a bad situation. If something does happen, You should never victim blame, or minimize the perpetrator’s gesture. Even if it seems minor to you. No means No. The booklet guides you and also connects you to resources. I am so determined to do my part to help empower you and your child because I know how devastating it can be for a child to experience a traumatic event.

Cheers,

MariannA

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