When my son was in first grade, his teacher spoke with me about his boundary pushing when it came to the other children. He and I were very comfortable in each other’s space and it didn’t occur to him that other people need personal space, even though he knew that he needed to respect when people told him “no.”
It’s not easy for kids to understand consent, especially when we make them kiss grandma and tickle them while they scream for us to stop, but they need bodily autonomy and they should be enabling others to have it as well. Most parents have a hard time teaching their children consent because it is a very difficult conversation and one that needs to be repeated. But, the way they learn about consent directly impacts the choices they make and the way they relate to others.
They Need to Ask for Consent
When my son was hugging other children and they were responding negatively, we had the talk about asking permission before you enter another person’s space. And, most parents have some version of this conversation when their children cross a boundary and cause a problem. But, kids need to know that they should ask permission every time they physically interact with another person, not just when it might cause a problem. This also helps with impulse control.
They Need to Know that Consent Can Be Removed
This can be a hard lesson for kids because adults struggle with it too. Just because someone invites you to interact physically with them doesn’t mean they are committed to engaging regardless of what happens. Kids need to learn how to check in frequently. Further, letting them know that they can say no at any time, even if they said yes prior or have a very close relationship with another person empowers them to control what happens to their body.
They Need to Know About Enthusiastic Consent
All too often, people confuse the absence of a response with consent. If a person didn’t say no, they must mean yes, right? No. It’s one thing to teach a child that a no should be respected. They need to learn that; it’s important. But, they need to also know that nothing short of a yes makes physical contact acceptable.
You will have to follow these rules with your children to remove ambiguity and that can prove hard because we all want to scoop our kids up and love them all the time. But, they do need to know that their body and what happens to it is something they get a say in.
Melissa Rix is a professional blogger specializing behaviors, addiction, recovery, and free rehab centers.