by Valerie Hughes.
When I think about consent, I always think about a sexuality education class I was facilitating in which a kid asked, “if you aren’t supposed to kiss someone without asking, how do you kiss them?” I loved this question, because the answer was right there, “by asking them first,” I said. The kid looked at me with the utmost side-eye of judgement and confidently said, “no one does that.” On my train ride home that afternoon, I found myself contemplating this interaction, as it had highlighted the problematic tropes of many relationships on film and TV, in which the initial risk of physical intimacy is in the actions, not the words. These tropes have persisted in spite of #metoo and are demonstrated in children’s programming more often than clear expressions of consent. How can we teach kids to understand and express their own boundaries and simultaneously respect the boundaries of others? How can we demonstrate consent?
Here are 5 ways to introduce consent at home:
- Teach your kiddos to ask before touching friends or classmates. This idea can be introduced in early childhood and can be introduced by saying things like, “Max, do you want to ask Taylor for a hug?” This practice also introduces the concept of accepting rejection for physical contact and gives you the opportunity to teach them how to navigate it in a healthy way. For example, Taylor declines the hug, you can follow up with, “That’s alright, Max, let’s wave goodbye to Taylor.”
- Introduce the concept of intuition. When you have younger kids, ask them if they’ve ever had an experience where they’ve felt weird, scared, or “icky,” but didn’t know why. Tell them that these feelings can sometimes be helpful and let them know that if they ever have questions about them, they can talk to you.
- Support them when they say no to physical contact with family members. Growing up, I had an aunt who wore a little too much perfume and lipstick and was insistent on greeting my cousins and I with a kiss. My mom would put on her sternest mom voice and tell me to let my aunt plant a few pink smudges on my cheeks. I know lots of adults who had an aunt like mine and see lots of adults insisting that their kids engage in physical affection with other family members. This is a behavior we’ve normalized that we can adjust and use as an opportunity for kids to learn. Instead of insisting that a child hug or kiss you when they say no, say, “it’s okay if you don’t want to hug me right now and I’d be happy to hug you later, if you change your mind.”
- Teach your kids the importance of words like “no” or “stop.” Be clear in your conversations that if someone says “no” or “stop” that they are expected to stop what they’re doing immediately. It is equally important for your child to know that if they say “no” or “stop” their request will be respected.
- Play Feelings Charades Act out feelings to help your child become more attuned to non-verbal communication.
Teaching consent can be one of the earliest skills kids learn to support healthy, trusting relationships throughout their lives. Even if your child gives you the side-eye and says, “no one does that,” your demonstration of these concepts plants a seed for their future that will grow through continued practice. Be patient, be consistent, and be positive and your child will have these skills down in no time.