5 WAYS TO TEACH KIDS ABOUT CONSENT
Until recently the extent of discussions related to consent has been related to sexual contact, “NO MEANS NO.” Although this statement is accurate, it is far from all-encompassing. The following will assist parents/guardians/trusted adults, designated by the child’s parents with 5 ways to assist children in learning about consent within relationships. Although there are many more ways to, these 5 ways are a great start.
By Dr. Holly Silva*
#1 TEACH, “NO MEANS NO”
It is important that we teach our children to respect that, No means no.” This can be explained by sharing that when a friend says “Stop” or “No,” all behaviors must come to a halt. Children must also be informed that when they say such words, others need to respect their words. Parents can demonstrate the importance of such words by respecting their child’s words. For example, when tickling a child, if they say, “No” or “Stop,” immediately stop tickling. Await for permission to resume tickling, regardless of if it appears that your child wants you continue. Awaiting permission also teaches a child that verbal consent is important and that it is not appropriate to rely on one’s nonverbal expressions alone. Awaiting permission also teaches the child that he/she has a right control to what happens to his/her body.
#2 RESPECT VARIOUS WAYS OF DISPLAYING AFFECTION
Teaching children about consent begins with parents. Children are unique human beings, with their own needs, desires and level of comfort. Some children demonstrate love and affection, physically, by cuddling, giving hugs and kisses, etc. Other children show love and affection without physical touch. Each child has a unique manner of showing affection and it is important that parents recognize that displays of affection come in various forms and, as long as such behaviors are not harmful, each manner is perfectly acceptable. Discussions regarding affection often come into play when a parent expects or forces their child to cuddle with them or show love by giving themselves, family members or friends a hug and/or kiss upon arrival and prior to leaving. When children do not comply, they are often reprimanded or made to feel that such affection is expected and that they are “bad”. It is the responsibility of parents to respect their children as unique human beings. Parents not respecting their children and their unique ways of displaying affection, can lead to problematic behavior.
#3 PROVIDE INFORMATION REGARDING CONSENT
Asking for consent begins early in life. Often this topic is not brought up until a child’s behavior brings about a negative reaction from a peer. For example, if a child attempts to hug a peer, and the peer reacts in a negative manner, a discussion typically occurs, as opposed to the parent being proactive in their teachings. It is important for parents to teach their children, at a young age, to ask first before engaging in physical contact. For example, teaching a child to ask, “Can I…May I…” or best yet, “Is it okay if I give you a hug,” teaches a child early-on about respecting boundaries. As children become adolescents, and adolescents become young adults, this form of communication becomes ingrained. Although, some might roll their eyes when reading such information, problems are not often viewed as such until the problem is serious in nature. If teaching consent early in life helps avoid one’s child - at the very extreme- becoming a sexual offender, then why not institute this form of communication early-on.
#4 DISCUSS RELATIONSHIPS
It is important to start early when discussing relationships with children. It is also important to realize that such discussions should take place on an on-going basis, whether it’s a face-to- face, sit-down discussion or seemingly “off-the-cuff conversation,” As stated above, consent is displayed in various forms beginning during childhood with, non-intimate relationships, proceeding with the development of sexual relationships, possibly during late-childhood (I can feel parents cringe at this thought), during adolescence and continuing development throughout adulthood. Children who are provided with age-appropriate information regarding relationships, are more likely to experience healthier relationships throughout their lives. Kids are also more likely to approach their parents with questions and concerns regarding other’s relationships, as well as, their own, if such discussions start early.
#5 TEACH BY EXAMPLEHealthy relationships should not only be explained to the child, it is essential that such information is modeled both within and outside the household. All humans experience days when we feel affectionate and want to hug or cuddle, whereas, other days, we may to give a high-five. Communicating with others, in the presence of our children, regarding emotions and desires regarding level of affection, reinforces that levels of affection may vary based on our emotions that day, and that, that is natural. Children will watch how you behave in your relationships and act accordingly. In conclusion, it is best to teach good behavior early-on rather than have to break bad habits later in life. When teaching/ modeling appropriate, respectful behavior, it is likely that we raise children who are less likely to sexually offend or be survivors of such offenses. In order for the above to occur, we need to teach the meaning of consent.
*Dr. Holly Silva is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist with a private practice. Her passion has evolved to educating the public through various media sources, as her mission remains NO MORE SEXUAL VICTIMS. After years of treating offenders, Dr. Silva’s focus has evolved to education related to primary prevention, educating others in order to prevent sexual assaults from occurring.
(The word “parent/s,” encompass guardians and trusted adults, of the parent’s choosing)