Early Lessons On Consent

Early Lessons on Consent | Kansas City Moms BlogI have started and restarted this post at least half a dozen times. Each prior draft felt like a persuasive essay entitled “Why You Should Teach Your Kids About Consent.” Which is why I have deleted each of those drafts.

Because you are already teaching your children about consent.

Whether you realize it or not.

When you tell little girls that the boy knocking her to the ground is only being aggressive because he likes her. When you shrug off that aggressive behavior by saying “boys will be boys.” You’re sending messages. Loud and clear messages. But likely not the ones that you want to be sending.

If you’re already teaching your children about consent, why not do so mindfully with a few tips on how to introduce the concepts of bodily autonomy, boundaries, and healthy relationships as soon as possible? Because the best way to keep our children safe is to teach them how to be safe. And the time to start teaching them is now.

  1. Seek your child’s consent when it comes to physical affection. And respect it. We started this one as early as we could. I am not quite sure the age. We ask for kisses and hugs. And tickles. And snuggles. Often, we get a “yes.” Sometimes, a “no.” And sometimes, we get a “no,” followed by an exacerbated child who doesn’t understand why he’s not getting a hug. The key is to listen. Sure, there are times when Mommy really wants a kiss goodbye at daycare drop off. But, my son’s body is his own, and he deserves to have his consent, or lack thereof, respected. These lessons in his own bodily autonomy will also translate to respecting the autonomy of those he wishes to be physically affectionate with. I’m already seeing the positive results! Recently, he’s begun lifting up my skirt. I say to him something along the lines of “that is my skirt and this is my body, and I do not like you touching me that way.” He responds with “Mommy’s body. No touch.”
  2. Don’t force your child to be affectionate with others. Grandma. Uncle. Auntie. Grandpa. Everyone loves the little ones, and everyone wants to shower them with affection. That does not mean that your little one wants to be on the receiving end of all of that affection. I’ve seen it with my own family – an older relative excitedly runs up to my toddler, their happy smiling face inches away from his, demanding a hug or a kiss. And, while the family member means well, it is obvious that my son is not thrilled by their close proximity or demand for affection. The horrified look on his face. The way he turns his head to avoid eye contact. The way he backs away from the person attempting to touch him. Even if he can’t say “no,” he is showing that he wants nothing to do with this. Which is why, when these kinds of acts occur, I make every effort to stand up for my son. “Do you want to hug * fill in the relative’s name here *? No? That’s ok. You don’t have to.” It might leave Great Aunt Doris feeling bummed out at missing a hug from her favorite toddler, but my priority as a mother is to protect the bodily autonomy and feelings of my son, not my great aunt. I also hope that he’ll remember this lesson: how he felt when someone tried to force affection on him and that his “no” was respected. Even when he was saying “no” to someone he loves.
  3. Teach them about their anatomy, including the proper terms. This one might seem strange, but it is important. It is important for our children to be able to explain if a part of their body was touched or hurt. Being able to say the words “penis” and “vagina” enables children to give accurate descriptions of what is happening with their bodies. It also removes some of the stigma around these body parts, so that they are comfortable talking about them if they need to. This may lead to embarrassing moments when your 18 month old announces to a crowded public pool that he has a penis. But, if the only negative consequence of teaching your child the proper terminology is that they use it accurately, in public, loudly, then that’s ok by me.
  4. Don’t banish pop culture. Embrace it. Let me explain this one. As our kids get older, they will see movies, listen to songs, and read books that will send them questionable messages. These messages can be scary, and the knee-jerk reaction can be to ban them. But – and hear me out on this one – why not use those examples as teachable moments? Let your child watch, listen, or read. While you watch, listen, and read, too. Then, talk about it! The only reason I read the entire Twilight and Fifty Shades series were so that I could have knowledgable and intelligent conversations with my students and friends about how Edward and Christian are abusers. That’s right, I said it. Abusers. Ain’t nothing sexy about an unhealthy relationship. Understanding what my kids were reading helped me to engage them in conversation. I could ask questions. I could point out facts. And I understood what they were taking in by reading those books. My toddler may not be ready for these lessons, given that the extent of his pop culture knowledge is Peppa Pig and Llama Llama Red Pajama, but I’m ready to teach them when the time comes.
  5. Lead by example. We parents are in many different relationships. We’re wives, we’re daughters, we’re sisters. These relationships often have a physical aspect to them. We hug our brothers. We kiss our mothers. We hold hands with our husbands. Modeling appropriate and safe affection is important for our children to develop healthy concepts of what affection can look like. Because physical affection, when wanted and welcome, can be a wonderful thing.

If you have any additional tips on how to teach consent, I’m always eager to learn more! Feel free to share them below or over on our Facebook page.

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2 Responses to Early Lessons On Consent

  1. Adam Pfleghaar September 14, 2016 at 3:17 pm #

    There may be points when a child reaches a certain age (or are in a certain mood) where they may not want any physical affection. But also that same child may not like to go to school, or do their homework, or do chores around the house. Does that mean that those things are bad for them or that they shouldn’t be subjected to them? If you google it, you’ll find tons of studies about the importance of physical affection on healthy childhood development. (http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=parental-warmth-and-affection) Of course, the point of the blog post isn’t that physical affection is bad, it’s just pointing out that you should teach a child boundaries and respect their feelings. I totally agree with that overall idea. But my main concern here is that by constantly calling attention to these physical boundaries you are teaching the child that there is something wrong with physical affection that they need to be constantly aware of and assess every time they engage in it, you are layering on psychological constructs that distance us from one of the primary behaviors of being a healthy human being (or any other animal). The long term affects could be a society of people even more distanced from love, affection, and empathy. It could promote a psychology that is maladjusted, narcissistic, alienated, or even sociopathic. If you want to teach your child how to cope with a situation where someone might want to cross their physical comfort zone or take advantage of them sexually, by all means teach them that this problem exists, that there are ignorant and bad people out there, and teach them how to respond to this situation. Personally, I would teach them self-defense at a very young age. Enroll them in martial arts and tell them about the situations and types of people they may encounter, but don’t create boundaries between you and them that prevents them from developing a healthy psychology by expressing physical affection openly and without reservations.

  2. Meredith September 27, 2016 at 8:22 am #

    I really enjoyed reading this post. As a parent of one (soon to be two) daughters, I think it’s important that they know their “no” will be respected. I think the commenter above is coming from a legitimate place of fear – that kids will somehow be “distanced from love” and that self defense classes are the answer. I think both can be true – that we can teach our children consent through the excellent points Britt makes above, and we can teach them self defense and enroll them in other classes that can boost self esteem – everything from rock climbing and gymnastics to art and music. There’s something I can’t shake that kind of rubs me the wrong way when reading Adam’s comment. (I’m not even going to address the fact that he thinks telling a kid they have a voice against unwelcome physical attention might turn them into a “sociopath”…what?!)

    If we only tell kids that they can/should use physical force to ward off an “attacker” (which a kid would likely not use on unwelcome physical attention from a family member/friend, and most sexual assault as we know is from someone the child knows) might cause serious problems down the road. If this child gets unwelcome attention from another kid or an adult, would they be blamed for “not standing up for themselves”? Would they feel shame that they were not able to fend off a situation that they might feel they should have been able to prevent given their martial arts training? I think a blend of techniques is likely a better choice. Give kids a voice AND physical confidence/tools if you think it will help.

    Again, great post Britt! We need more voices making these points.