This month in The Peaceful Home we have been talking about supporting our children in their social interactions, and this led us to discuss the issue of children and consent.

As adults, we are in a position of power and privilege compared to our children. It’s up to us to use that power to be an ally, protecting our children’s rights to autonomy and consent over what happens to their body. Often, this means sticking up for them in front of other adults, even when this feels difficult or uncomfortable.

All children have a right to consent and to bodily autonomy. This is especially important when it comes to unwanted physical affection such as kisses, hugs, tickling, and being picked up, even if this affection comes from a place of love.

When your child is on the end of unwanted attention from another adult, you might:

  • Mention consent before physical contact is made. “I bet you’re feeling excited to give James a cuddle as you haven’t seen him in a while; would you like to ask him if he’d like one?” or “Maybe you could get down to her level and put your arms out, then if she wants a hug she’ll crawl over.”
  • Translate for your child. “That cry means he doesn’t want to be picked up right now, please could you put him back down so he can continue playing.”
  • Ask the other person politely but firmly to stop. “Please stop trying to kiss her, she is making it clear that she doesn’t want to be kissed right now.”
  • Explain further if needed. “He is the only one who gets to decide what happens to his body. I need you to respect that his no means no.” 
  • Give your child the language and permission to stand up for themselves. “No one can do things to you without you saying yes. Your body, your choice. If you don’t like something someone is doing, you can loudly say “no” and then come and find me or someone else you trust. You are the boss of your own body.”
  • Suggest alternatives that everyone feels comfortable with. Maybe they don’t want to hug granny but could they blow a kiss? Give their cousin a high-five instead of a cuddle?

We also need to remember to talk to our children about other’s right to consent too, for example explaining that they should not to grab, hug, or kiss other children without asking them first, or talking to them about your own right to eg. not be climbed on right now.

Teaching children about consent from early on is such a valuable lesson, and sticking up for their rights, even when we find it hard or awkward, shows them that we are willing to put their right to autonomy over their body above social niceties or individual pressure. This paves the way for decades of future healthy relationships where they know that they have the right to say no – and expect to be listened to – if something makes them uncomfortable.

If you enjoyed this post, you might like this one: Seven ways to encourage consent in young children.

Posted by:Eloise R

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