One of the greatest gifts I have been able to give my four year old daughter is the knowledge that she is the boss of her own body. She decides whether or not to give and receive physical affection, depending on how she feels in the moment.
Her Dad and I also teach her that her choices may be different on different days, and that’s okay.
Last night before bed, she said “No hug tonight Mama, just a kiss on the cheek please.” In the morning she asked for a hug as soon as she woke up.
The key is that she knows she always has a choice.
Just like adults, children don’t always want to be touched, and we need to give them the tools to express this, and support them to have their choices respected.
Modeling consent throughout childhood is a powerful tool we can use to reduce the risk of sexual abuse for the children in our lives. It also gives children the opportunity to get to know themselves.
When young people are empowered to set boundaries around their bodies, they have the chance to connect to their instincts and to practice differentiating between what feels right and what doesn’t. They also learn to respect the body boundaries of those around them.
When we force children to give or receive affection against their will we send the message that pleasing others is more important than their wellbeing.
And it’s not.
Corinne from the Pragmatic Parent sums it up perfectly in an article about her daughter:
As her parent and advocate, I can’t force my daughter to ignore her feelings for the sake of being compliant.
It is our responsibility as caregivers to help children rest securely in the fact that their body belongs to them. If they want to hug, that’s great, if they don’t, that’s great too. If they want to hug and then they want to stop, that’s also okay.
At every age, consent is about trust, boundaries, safety and body autonomy, and it should be taught as early as possible.
How to Teach Consent to Young Children:
- Let children lead the way. Enable them to decide whether or not they would like to be physically affectionate.
- Give them the language they need to be able to set boundaries. “No thank you.” “I don’t want to be touched right now.” “I don’t want a hug.”
- If a child doesn’t want to give or receive physical affection, don’t punish them by sulking or taking it personally. Smile warmly and praise them for setting good boundaries.
- Be clear about when and how you want to be touched. This models consent and reminds children to respect others and their bodies.
- If your child wants to embrace, do so enthusiastically and lovingly. Safe touch is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children.
- Remember that if relatives and friends think they “deserve” a hug, that’s their issue not yours. It’s much less important to please them than it is to validate your child’s feelings.
How do you teach and model consent? Please share your thoughts in the comments below