Let’s Talk About Consent and Boundaries
We should frame conversations with children about their bodies and consent. Abuse happens and it’s never too early or too late to understand the difference between consent and coercion. Apart from that, this is going to build positive values around sexuality and self-esteem. Here some guidelines to teach about consent and boundaries:
Name parts of the body without shame.
Talking openly about bodies helps keep shame away and makes children feel comfortable to speak up if there is a problem. It’s crucial to have an agreed language between caregivers. Children who feel confident about their own body are able to quicker identify when something is wrong.
Use a positive approach.
We need to use an agreed and correct language. By normalising body parts and speaking of them straightforwardly with the right language, we send the message that every part of the body is healthy and worthy. When babies and toddlers explore their own bodies, we need to start explaining the concept of public/private. It’s really beneficial to talk about it in a positive way. There’s nothing wrong with what they’re doing, but they need to understand that certain kinds of actions have to be done in the appropriate places. It involves talking about reproductive body parts positively too. When we teach hygiene, we need to avoid grossed-out faces and language, by calling a nappy ‘full’ instead of ‘dirty’.
No means no!
Every child should know the concept of consent. We can explain that by telling them that we have the right to say ‘no’ whenever and wherever required. They also need to understand and respect the power of the word ‘no’. For this to happen, we will need to encourage them to respect others and respect their own selves, but also it’s important to create a culture of consent. We need to ask children for their permission: ‘Is it okay if..?’ We need to act as role models and show that ‘no’ means ‘no’, not ‘yes’ or ‘maybe’. I think it’s also crucial to explain that people change their minds constantly. People have the right to say ‘yes’ and then change to ‘no’, and we have to respect when this happens.
Assertiveness is a concept we should teach from the beginning. Click here if you want to know more about how to foster assertiveness at home.
Culture of consent: Always ask.
Asking for permission and opinions is an important part of respectful parenting. Your child needs to be heard. Here are some examples we should always remember:
-‘Are you okay with..?’
-‘Do you want to say hello to..?’
-‘I’m going to… Is it okay?’
Click here to learn other ways to show respect for children.
Help children to establish their boundaries.
Your child needs to discover what they like and don’t like. This is a good starting point. It can be taught from what colour they love or not, to who they want to hug or not. If we start from the simplest concepts, it will be easier to get the critical aspects.
Teaching children that they can trust their instincts and say ‘no’ if someone touches them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable has a protective effect against sexual abuse and builds self-love and self-confidence.
Build trust so that your child can always talk to you.
Confidence is one of the pillars of a strong relationship and gaining it requires time and respect. We need to make sure children understand the difference between a safe secret e.g. a birthday surprise and an unsafe secret e.g. an adult asking them not to tell that they have touched a part of their body. At any age, we have to be really clear and say: ‘If anyone touches you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, you can always tell me. I’m here to help.’
What they HAVE to know.
1. My body is mine and belongs to me.
2. Private parts are private.
3. ‘No’ means ‘no’. I have the right to say ‘NO’, and I have to respect people when they say ‘no’.
4. I can talk with my parents about secrets that upset me or something that’s wrong. I have to speak up, they can help me.
5. I know my name, address and my parents’ phone number.
6. I should call 999 if I have an emergency. (Teach your child what an emergency is by providing clear examples.)
Remember, it’s never too early or too late to teach your child about consent and boundaries.