Children and Consent: How it should be taught right from the start

The year 2016 gave us a very important movie, ‘Pink’. It was important in the sense that it explained the concept of consent, something which is still quite alien in our third-world society plagued with so many issues of its own, that it forgets to look for crimes that happen within the walls of their homes. Young kids are assaulted and they don’t even understand what happened to them till its too late and has done the damage to their impressionable minds. So, how do you teach them young, to differentiate between good touch and bad touch?

Sharing a few tips on the same is our expert, Niyatii Shah. She is an educator and knows how to simplify this concept for children so that parents can teach it.

sex educator Niyatii Shah

sex educator Niyatii Shah

Consent is an intelligent, voluntary, sober, enthusiastic, creative, wanted, informed, mutual, honest, and clearly communicated agreement between two people.

Asking a toddler, ‘I’m going to change your nappy now, is that OK?’ may seem like a weird thing to do at the moment, whether you have a baby who can’t speak or a growing toddler. However, the child will grow up to learn the importance of taking permission. As they grow, because they are used to that question, they will start responding in their own way; first with their body language, and then by way of words. Making eye contact and waiting for a reply will let your child know that their response matters. The whole objective is to make consent a norm for them.

Educating about consent in this manner serves two purposes:

 

1) Both the parents get into a positive habit of not assuming consent from their children.

2) Children are taught right from the start that they have a right to decide what happens to their bodies.

Another thing to keep in mind is, while we may think that we have established a tryst of trust with our kids and explained it all to them, it is not necessary that they have got it. There are times when we must make it explicit and talk to them about it.

 

Here some tips on HOW TO TEACH CONSENT TO YOUR CHILDREN.

  1.     Teach children to ask permission

Permission could be for anything, such as, using someone’s things or touching someone to say a simple ‘hello’ or a ‘bye’, or even hugging someone to express love. We must teach our children that it’s important to ask for permission.

 

Use language such as, “Nisha, let’s ask Rahul if he would like to hug bye-bye.” If Rahul says “no” to this request, cheerfully tell your child, “That’s okay, Nisha! Let’s wave bye-bye to Rahul.”

 

  1.     Teach your kids that “no” and “stop” are important words

The best way to teach this is to stop when your child says “Stop” during a fun and laughter-filled tickling session. Your child may seem to enjoy it but if there is a mention or a command to STOP, the parent should STOP. Here the child learns that the words like STOP, DON’T DO IT, NO are important words and one must respect it.

 

  1.     Teach the children to read facial expressions and body language of others

Scared, happy, like, dislike, sad, frustrated, angry and as many as you can; teach them. Charade-style guessing games with expressions are a great way to teach children how to read body language. With this skill, they will be able to read a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ without saying it out loud. There may be times when a person may react with his / her body language and not words. Knowing this skill can save your child from misunderstanding a yes/no.

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  1.     Never force a child to hug, touch or kiss anybody, for any reason

Hugs and kisses are the usual ways of greeting people. However, it can also be a means of assault. It becomes difficult for a parent to explain to a relative when the child refuses a hug/kiss. Parents feel embarrassed in front of the relative and force or encourage the child to hug / kiss back. If a relative is demanding a kiss, and your child is resistant, offer alternatives by saying something like, “Would you rather give aunty a high-five or blow her a kiss, maybe?” Your support to his / her resistance will reassure your child that you respect their decision.

 

  1.     Talk about “gut feelings” or instincts

Sometimes we have this weird feeling in our stomach. Things make us feel weird, or scared, or yucky and we don’t know why. Ask your child if that has ever happened with them and listen quietly as they explain.

Teach them that this “belly voice” is correct many times and that if they ever have a gut feeling that is confusing, you are always there to help and support them. But listening to this ‘belly voice’ is important even if the brain may something different.

 

  1.     Teach them to identify what feels good to them and what doesn’t 

Once the kids start growing into adolescents, they will have more confusing times as their body and mind grow into new avenues, physically and emotionally. Encouraging them to talk about what feels good and what doesn’t will give parents a chance to understand their child and an opportunity to talk about topics like relationships and sex.

 

  1.     Encourage them to express

Most children in their adolescent age do not talk to their parents. They feel closer and more understood by their friends. But, they hide a lot of things from their friends too, for the fear of being ridiculed or rejected. Children need to learn to express how to feel and talk, when confused. Spend more time talking general things to them instead of lecturing. Kids may not immediately respond by engaging in conversations but it will be their natural instinct to talk to you when they need to.

 

  1.     Talking about sex and consent is a continuous process

Till they are mature enough to understand it themselves and are taking correct decisions, children need to be spoken about sex and consent continuously. Not because parents don’t trust their child but because at this age, they lack clarity. As mentioned earlier, there are many confusing areas and only talking about it will help. Talk about smaller topics like “what if a boy/girl does not say no in words but are moving back when you are about to kiss?”

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  1.     Practising consent

Cutting the long story short, consent cannot be learned if the children do not see their adults practising it. Lead by example.

 

  1. Consent should be given each time

Consent cannot be assumed, even if it was given the first time or repeatedly. A person has the right to say NO even after saying YES multiple times. One cannot argue with that. This lesson is very important for our kids to understand.

 

NO means NO

A NO said softly does not mean a yes.

A NO said non-verbally does not mean yes.

A NO said indirectly does not mean yes.

A NO means NO.

And this should be made clear to children when you are educating and empowering them to understand consent.

 

Teach your child to say NO.

During a safe-unsafe touch session in school, children are advised to say no when they are uncomfortable or when someone touches their private parts. But most children don’t know HOW TO say no. It’s important to demonstrate it to them to give them a clear picture of how it’s done.

 

Respect makes relationships better. Asking for consent shows respect for yourself and your partner. Your body belongs to you and no one else just like theirs belong to them and not you.

 

 

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