Teaching consent to our kids is one of the most important lessons.
We should begin practicing and teaching consent with babies, but it’s never too late.
Gentle and respectful parenting is about consent and respecting kids as the people they are – with needs, preferences, and desires just like adults.
Even though I had little autonomy as a child, teen, or even young adult, I want to do better with my kids and model and teach them consent in all their relationships.
I didn’t do the greatest as a gentle parent until about ten years ago, so my eldest got the brunt of my outgrowing my own childishness and trauma. My middle two kids don’t have much memory of the bad times and my youngest is the healthiest by far.
Consent and control cannot coexist.
I find myself constantly reevaluating how I can show respect to my children.
I have edited and updated my blog and social media to exclude photos and stories about my children than they would rather I not share. I don’t post photos of my kids without their consent anymore. I do not share explicit stories about my kids’ troubles or our family troubles without clearing it with my family first. Yes, I think some info is helpful to others who may face the same issues, but it’s a touchy subject and I should use discretion.
Kids are not a hashtag nor should they be exploited online for clicks, likes, clout.
What does teaching and modeling consent look like?
Having pets or access to pets is a great way to model and teach consent. Animals surely let us know when they are done with us or don’t like something.
We teach even our youngest kids how to gently pet the cat, to be quiet and less sudden so as not to scare the cat. Kids learn about pets’ eating and bathroom habits and how to leave them alone to do that. This is easily transferrable to people and respecting their space.
Some pets are more anxious than others and it’s important not to leave very young kids alone with animals, even if you think you know them well.
Since infants don’t have any autonomy and can only make eye contact and sounds, it’s important to speak to our babies and narrate what we are doing to their bodies so they can begin to understand that we care for them with love and respect.
We can gently tell our babies that we are picking them up so they associate the words with the action. We can inform them that it is time for a diaper change. We can explain that we need to gently wipe nose, mouth, face. We can make it a game to undress or dress for bathtime or changing time as we talk about body parts that we tuck into sleeves or massage with oils.
This is probably a difficult time but oh, so important to model and discuss consent.
Toddlers learn and love the word, “No!” and use it often. It’s very upsetting to buckle a child into a carseat when she doesn’t want to do that.
We teach that NO is never a game. No means NO. We stop tickling or wrestling or playing and we teach new ways to play games like Freeze Tag or Red Light Green Light without making No a game or funny word.
Many times, the toddler doesn’t want to stop what he’s doing to get the diaper changed. We have to give firm choices of only two options like, now or after this song. We can explain that it’s important for health and everyone’s happiness that carseats are always used and diapers are changed. We as adults might need to be more flexible and allow more time or change of plans if the child is unwilling or needs to wait.
Kids know if they’re hot or cold and it’s wise to take extra clothing along just in case. And they will often realize they need that coat or hat after all in a few minutes. Children know when they’re hungry so it’s wise not to coax them to eat more and not listen to their bodies. When they get sleepy, it’s often needed to be patient and close by with young kids who are learning how to self-soothe. We can give kids agency by offering choices like what story to read at bedtime or what snack to have.
Much of consent with toddlers is teaching the concepts of body, space, and touch. Also, showing empathy to kids and modeling emotional intelligence instead of distracting from healthy emotions, even if we as a society view those feelings as negative or uncomfortable. When a child falls or gets hurt, we can express that we understand. We are here. We permit the tears so they can move on from the pain, whether physical or embarrassment or both.
Once kids reach school age, it’s easier to communicate and impart another’s viewpoint. Kids are naturally empathetic and want to please.
Kids need to learn the difference between secrets and surprises. We have to model and teach safety to young kids so they know there should be no secrets. Teaching kids blind obedience opens up ways for abuse if they have no outlet to question or negotiate. Bodies are our own and we don’t owe anyone hugs, kisses, fist bumps, handshakes, or any contact at all. As parents, we must protect our kids from overreaching family members and friends who do not understand this.
Kids learn personal space and respect by seeing it modeled by the adults they trust. Teaching boundaries is essential. Learning about tone of voice and body language becomes important.
I speak firmly and clearly to my kids when I need a moment and they learn that I am nearby and they are safe. They learn that people have needs to be alone or together, quiet or loud, at different times.
Interruptions are harsh for kids, so it’s wise to give warnings about cleaning up and getting ready a few minutes beforehand. I also like to help my kids with overwhelming chores so they don’t feel so lost and get discouraged.
Please do not wait until kids are over ten to discuss sex ed. This should be an ongoing conversation and surely kids are curious about some aspects as young as toddlers and preschoolers. If you have triggers or hangups about sex, you need to work to overcome that so you can discuss the hard topics with your kids.
Consent is so much more than just about sex.
Even if the concept of consent is newer to you or you didn’t model it so well with the kids when they were younger, you can make up for the lost time and start anew.
I’m learning and growing alongside my kids and reading, reading, reading so much as preview and with my kids now.
It’s important to be open to messy conversations about relationships, dating, and sex. It’s certainly time to discuss sexual harassment and assault. We need to discuss substance use and abuse and its role in consent.
We can practice responses about boundaries so kids have an internal script.
We watch shows together that often have cringey scenes and we discuss why and what should be different. They don’t really like to see violence or sex on screen and I try to brace them if the show is still good enough and only has a few scenes that forward the story line.
It’s go time.
Everything we have done as parents is now being tested out in the real world. We cannot be there as a protective parent all the time anymore, and that is oh, so scary.
Teens are exploring and navigating relationships outside the family, with friends and potential significant others.
It’s important that we as parents stand by as guides and not judges. By building trust, we are here to help our teens work out issues in their relationships and help them make wise decisions.
Consent isn’t just for straight boys. We need to help our kids understand the importance of consent in all their interactions and relationships. It’s about more than just sex.
We need to have hard conversations with our kids and if sex cannot be discussed with proper words for body parts and functions, then no one should be doing it.
There needs to be clear verbal consent each and every time there is any intimacy.
It might be a good time for self-defense classes.
The human brain isn’t fully developed until about age 25.
Hopefully, young adults grow in wisdom and respect and model healthy relationships to those around them.
With so many different kinds of relationships being acceptable, it’s super important to be clear with consent and boundaries.
I’m still modeling consent and having conversations with my eldest child who is about to turn 21.
I’m rather glad I don’t have to navigate the dating scene anymore and I’m worried for my four kids and what they may encounter and how they can handle it.
As parents, we need to protect young ones from overreaching adults – family members, friends, and acquaintances who may overstep and demand contact that our kids aren’t interested or ready for. Our kids don’t owe anyone access to their bodies – not grandpa, grandma, aunts, uncles, or the elderly at church.
I’ve found myself becoming hyper-aware of adults invading kids’ space. Why did the eye doctor have to lean on my child’s knee to adjust the equipment or touch my son’s shirt in jest to make his inappropriate joke? I also notice when adults are very respectful and I make sure to thank them.
It’s important to set boundaries and continue to communicate clearly about needs.
Hopefully, we can help the next generations do even better with consent.
7 Ways to Teach YOUR children Consent without mentioning SEX by Lolo Cynthia.
- Teach Your Children To Say NO
- Respect Your Children’s NO
- Teach Your Children To ALWAYS ask for permission
- Get A Strong Positive Male Figure For Boy Children
- Teach Kids Not To Move People Out Of the Way With Their Hands
- Teach Kids Not To Give Out People’s Personal Information Without Permission
- Make every moment a teachable moment.
You might also like:
- Teaching Sex Ed
- My Father is a Racist
- Raised Better
- I am not insignificant
- Teaching My Daughters to Take Up Space
- Teaching My Son to Make Room
- Why I Don’t Teach Purity
- 10 Things I Want to Tell My Children
- Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No To Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
- The Dance of Intimacy: A Woman’s Guide to Courageous Acts of Change in Key Relationships by Harriet Lerner
- The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness, and Healing in a Toxic Culture by Gabor Maté
- Let’s Talk About Body Boundaries, Consent and Respect: Teach children about body ownership, respect, feelings, choices and recognizing bullying behaviors by Jayneen Sanders
- Consent: The New Rules of Sex Education: Every Teen’s Guide to Healthy Sexual Relationships by Jennife rLang
- What Does Consent Really Mean? by Pete and Thalia Wallis
- C is for Consent by Elanor Morrison
- Consent (for Kids!): Boundaries, Respect, and Being in Charge of YOU by Rachel Brian
People misusing and abusing the word “grooming” are “creating confusion about what ‘grooming’ and child abuse actually entails, and when there’s confusion, it’s harder for adults to notice actual abuse and harder for kids to report.”
What does consent look like in your family?
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Lauren Renee Sparks says
Such an important thing to discuss.
Charmaine MacDonald says
An important if somewhat uncomfortable topic to bring to the table! Thank you.