This may be a topic that you avoid, do not fully understand, or do not think your child will understand at a young age. You can practice talking about consent with infants and toddlers by verbalizing that you are going to pick them up and talking them through actions that you are doing during daily caretaking routines. It can be uncomfortable at times for parents to have to broach topics such as these; however, learning more about it can help both you and your child.
Discussing consent allows your child to feel safe about talking to you whenever they need to, and about anything that’s on their mind. Having open communication is healthy and leaves little room for secrets between you and your child. Talking about consent with your child does not need to be challenging. Many people associate consent with sex, but consent simply means giving permission.
Letting your child learn and ask questions at a young age about their bodies and themselves helps build healthy boundaries. Consent means giving someone a choice and respecting their answer. With children, we often use the language of asking for permission – for example, “can I give you a hug?” Some may view a child refusing a hug from a relative or close friend as disrespectful, but this is teaching your child that it is okay to say “no”, and they do not need to be forced into a situation they do not feel comfortable in – it is not rude.
You can practice talking about consent during playtime when your child is sharing toys and activities. Understanding and respecting the personal space of others is a great starting point. Allowing a child to have control of their own body and their space starting at a young age is extremely powerful and important. Children need to learn that they can set boundaries and limits and not be put into inappropriate or uncomfortable situations.
Conversations around consent should be ongoing, and naturally come up during conversations. As parents, we provide examples to our children daily. If your child is invading your space, you can use this as a teaching moment by saying, for example, “your body belongs to you, and my body belongs to me” or “no one should touch your body without permission.” Consent means always choosing to respect others' boundaries and by doing so you are showing that you care about them.
It is our responsibility as adults to keep our children safe. We may need to educate those around us – friends, family, coaches, teachers – if they are not respecting your child’s space or have a different perspective from yours. Grandparents may not agree or understand the reasoning behind your child not agreeing to give them a kiss, hug or sit in their lap, but explaining to them you want your child to have a good understanding of their body and their boundaries at a young age is important. Talking about consent and respecting boundaries should not be a one-time conversation as children receive various lessons every day from many different people. Keeping the door of conversation open allows the opportunity to make sense of some of these conversations; especially if they are not happening under your roof.
Tips for teaching consent:
This is lifelong learning, not a one-off talk. The responsibility lies with families, schools, and communities to work together.
The information provided in this article should not replace professional support or help. Alex Suvanto, M.Sc, is a Registered Provisional Psychologist with ABS Psychological Services.
See our related articles:
Calgary’s Child Magazine © 2023 Calgary’s Child