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Talking to your kids about consent can be uncomfortable or overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be!
Kids who understand the importance of consent:
- Feel empowered to confidently make decisions about their bodies
- Feel comfortable talking to trusted adults about these topics
- Know the importance of setting and respecting boundaries
Asking for consent
What is Consent?
Consent means giving someone a choice about touch or actions and respecting their answer. With children, we often use the language "asking for permission."
At this age, we want to lay the foundation for setting boundaries, making decisions about their bodies, asking for permission, and responding appropriately when someone says no to them.
Besides consent, kids need to learn that they can set boundaries and limits on when and how their bodies are touched and by whom. Some tips regarding boundaries follow.
Conversations around consent should be ongoing. Here’s how you can incorporate consent into everyday conversations with your child.
Ways to ask your child for consent:
- “Do you want a hug goodbye today? We could also wave or high five.”
- “Can I sit beside you while we read this book?”
- "Can I tell your teacher that your grandma died?"
Ways to model consent:
- “Do you need a break from tickling, or are tickles still okay with you?”
- “It's OK if you don't want a goodnight hug."
- “Can I help you put your jacket on?”
Ways to teach your child to ask for consent with other children:
- “Do you want to play with the red or the blue car?”
- "Do you want to hold hands when we walk to lunch?"
- “Can I sit next to you on the bus?”
Teach Your Child:
- Your body belongs to you
- You get to decide what happens to your body
- No one should touch you without permission
- Telling someone not to touch you is NOT rude
- Consent means always choosing to respect others' boundaries
- Respecting someone’s boundaries shows that you care about them
We want to encourage children to accept a no answer, but we can also understand the sad or upset feelings that might come along with hearing “no” and help them to deal with those hard feelings in a positive way. You might say something like this:
- “I’m proud of you for respecting your friend’s answer and choosing another seat. That shows that you care about your friend.”
- “It seems like you’re sad, I can understand that. It can be hard to hear a friend or someone we love tell us no.”
- “What do you think you could do with your sad feelings? What would make you feel better?”
This could be content about violence, bullying, substance abuse, or a sexual situation. When this happens, it’s a great time to either pause the show or talk to your child afterwards about what you just saw. Here are some questions you can ask to start the conversation:
- “If you were in that situation what would you do? What would you say?”
- “I hope you know that you could always talk to me if that ever happens to you or if you have any questions about a situation like that.”
You have instructed your child to keep the surprise a secret. Language around surprises and secrets can be tricky with kids because you don’t want them to keep secrets from you if they’re being hurt in any way. Here’s a way to help differentiate surprises and secrets:
- “Surprises are happy things that eventually everyone knows about. Our family doesn’t keep secrets because they can hurt other people.”
It’s OK if you don’t have all the answers! If you’re not sure about something, let the child know that you will get back to them. Then, take time to research and talk to other people.
Ask the experts
Consent can be part of the conversation at any age! Consent, or asking for permission, is a normal part of everyday life. You can practice making consent part of the conversation with an infant or toddler by verbalizing that you are going to pick them up or talk through the actions you do with them. As children become more verbal, you can model how to ask for permission and respond appropriately when you do or do not receive permission from another person. Conversations about consent can be related to sharing toys and games, and understanding and respecting the personal space of others.
It shouldn’t be a one time-conversation. Children are receiving messages from all sorts of places, and as an adult, you can help them make sense of these messages. There are always opportunities in everyday situations to discuss consent and boundaries. Check out this resource to learn more.
It’s our responsibility as adults to keep kids safe. This means we need to be thoughtful about who they spend time with. We also need to educate our family, friends, neighbors, and coaches about our expectations around boundaries and consent. Explain to family members that you want to teach your kids about body autonomy; so if a child doesn’t want to sit on Grandma’s lap or give a hug or kiss, then it’s up to Grandma to respect these boundaries and she can offer an alternative, like a high five!
Now that you've prepared, engage your child in the conversation!