Teaching Children About Consent

Teaching Children About Consent Because No Means NO’:

Numerous studies have shown the benefits of parents and children talking about consent throughout childhood and adolescence. For babies and young toddlers, consent can be grasped through body language. Think, for example, of how we expect babies to kiss friends and relatives. Even when the baby recoils we generally tend to persist, lean them in towards whoever is leaving and instruct ‘come on now, give Granny a big kiss’. While babies are usually tactile and open to big displays of affection, they are also able to let us know when they don’t want that affection. They can turn into us or turn their face away from Granny, which indicates to us that they don’t want to kiss her. What is important is how we react to that. Instead of persisting, try something along the lines of ‘that’s OK, let’s just give Granny a big wave goodbye instead’. What you are doing is acknowledging your baby’s wishes and respecting them. You are giving her a voice before she ever has one but also role modelling consent before she understands what it is.

For older toddlers and young children, rough-housing and typical play can be used to explain consent. Older siblings, for example, often like to tickle smaller children. While this is initially met with fits of giggles, after a while you will generally observe the smaller child saying ‘stop it’, but still laughing. This presents a great teachable moment. If one child persists with tickling, intervene and come to their level: ‘Josh has asked you to stop tickling him so you need to stop pet. Of course you can tickle your brother but the second he says stop, you have to stop, ok?’ In a few short sentences you have used the word ‘stop’ repeatedly, which will help both children involved to learn about actions and reactions.

With teenagers, the issue of consent should accompany any and all discussions around the facts of life. While we are teaching them about the biology of sex, we also need to teach them the psychology of it. We should instil in every adolescent boy and girl that consent is a conversation between two people. It isn’t something open to interpretation or something that changes when other factors (such as alcohol, peer influence etc.) are involved. By doing so, we are teaching them about personal responsibilities and boundaries.

As your children get older, you don’t have the full view of their lives as you did when they were smaller. By continuously talking to them and letting them know that you are there for them, you are supporting them on their future paths. By keeping the topic of consent open and ongoing, you are putting safety rails on those paths.

This article was contributed by a member of Parenting Limerick.