By Eleanor Beeslaar, Graduate Assistant
Education about consent should start early! When we start the conversation about consent at a young age, kids are able to develop a strong foundation to build healthy boundaries and relationships throughout their lifetime. Below are some tips to help you teach your elementary schooler about consent.
Teach correct vocabulary. An important step in building the foundation to discuss consent with younger children is teaching the correct, scientific vocabulary to describe body parts and genitalia, instead of using coded language. When we use the correct anatomical terms when teaching kids about their bodies, it keeps kids from getting confused and ensures that adults will understand if they reach out for help regarding abuse. It also helps break down the stigma about talking about bodies, sex, and consent, helping kids feel less embarrassed when having these conversations in the future.
Teach your kids that their body belongs to them. A key element in teaching children about healthy boundaries and consent is empowering them to have autonomy over their bodies. Teach them that they have power and control over who they share physical touch, such as hugs, kisses, tickling, and high fives, with. It is critical to teach kids that if they are uncomfortable, they have the right to say “no,” and it is the other person’s responsibility to listen and stop immediately. This also involves respecting your kids’ boundaries if they don’t want to give you or another family member a hug or kiss.
Teach them that consent goes both ways. It is also important to teach children how to ask for consent. Using concrete examples can help make this concept easier to understand. For example, if they want to give someone a hug or a high five, they should ask first instead of assuming that the other person will be okay with it.
Talk about consent with friends and family. Part of teaching kids about consent and bodily autonomy means letting friends and family in on the conversation. This might look like educating them about your child’s autonomy and boundaries. For example, if a grandparent wants a hug or kiss from your child, it’s important for them to respect your child’s decision if they refuse. When you talk about this ahead of time, you can make sure that you and the grandparent are on the same page, so your kids aren’t receiving mixed messages.
Talk about body safety and appropriate vs. inappropriate touch/behavior. This involves talking to kids about their bodies, including private areas. For younger children, you can use the bathing suit rule to help talk about appropriate vs. inappropriate touch. You can explain that it is only okay for parents, teachers, babysitters, or doctors to touch you in these areas when they are helping you go to the bathroom, take a bath, or during a check-up. It is important to be clear that the touch should be quick and only for those reasons. Be sure to tell your children that if they ever feel uncomfortable in these situations, it is important to tell a trusted adult, and that if anyone else touches them in these areas, they should tell an adult right away. A key part of talking about appropriate vs. inappropriate touch is telling kids that any type of touch that makes them feel uncomfortable is not okay. The body safety conversation also involves talking about inappropriate behaviors, such as adults asking kids to keep secrets, making inappropriate comments, taking or showing sexual pictures, etc. Use examples and be clear and concrete when having this conversation. And remember to communicate that it is never the victim’s fault!
Check out this great video that breaks down consent in a kid-friendly way!
The conversation about consent and boundaries is ongoing and changes as your child gets older. We encourage you to keep an open line of communication about these topics as your child grows, and stay tuned as we talk about consent with pre-teens and teens in our upcoming blog!