Broaching loaded and potentially triggering topics like sexual consent can be scary as a parent. But these everyday actions can help you with simple ways to teach consent from childhood.
As parents we want our children to know that their body matters, that respect matters and that consent and boundaries matter. But it can be worrying and many parents may find themselves avoiding the topic through worrying that their children are too young, that they might open up questions that they aren’t ready to answer or they are too embarrassed and not sure what to say.
But teaching our children about consent can start long before it’s time for ‘the talk’, and doesn’t have to make reference to sex or sexual violence at all.
Teaching children about consent starts with teaching them the importance of boundaries, helping our children to figure out what they are ok with as well as about respecting other people’s wishes.
These simple, everyday actions can empower both parents and their children, and focuses on modelling consent before getting into the specifics of sexual consent.
5 simple ways to teach consent from childhood
Ask for their consent often
Asking your child for their consent before things like hugging is a great place to start. Things like “Can I have a hug?” or “Can I hold your hand?” shows them that they have a choice and get to say if something is ok with them or not. Once you have your answer, then you need to respect it. Which leads us nicely on to…
Teach them their “no” matters
Respect their “no”. When you (or anyone else) try to convince them to go against that, or to change their no to a yes, they learn to override their own feelings of what’s comfortable and what’s not for someone else. Obviously there are limits with that and some “no’s” need more of a conversation (cleaning teeth for example!) but as a general rule, their no deserves complete respect. This also involves other people. Sometimes older relatives can expect a hug, and if your child isn’t comfortable with that then you can help them. Have some conversations starters ready; “Jack doesn’t feel like hugging today but he’s just been put up a reading level of school, isn’t that great!” paves the way to move on from a “no” to a hug.
Teach them to ask for permission before touching or taking
Show that consent works both ways. “Shall we check if Sally wants a hug?” or “Have you asked if Tom has finished playing with that?” teaches children that they need to ask for consent too. Children get excited; they rush in to hug their friends, or pick up the toy without checking because they’re enjoying the moment. Teaching that they need to ask for consent, and respect the answer is as important as teaching them that their own consent matters.
Teach them that “yes” can become a “no”
Play-fighting, tickling, chase; there are lots of things that you can use to show that a yes can change to a no and that that’s ok. Check in with your child often, make sure that they’re still happy to carry on and if they say they want to stop then stop. And teach them to do the same. It’s really common for children to keep going and not realise when it’s time to stop, so make this part of your everyday interactions with them.
Teach them the basics of body safety and boundaries
The NSPCC PANTS is a great place to start and gives you some excellent resources to use with your child. You can model body boundaries easily and giving them a choice when it comes to their bodies needs to be an everyday thing. “We need to put some cream on to make you better. Do you want to do that, or shall I?” and explaining what’s going to happen at the doctors are all good ways to model informed consent.