While it’s a common belief to think you need to wait until puberty to teach kids about healthy relationships, experts recommend modeling respect for partners far earlier. “Waiting till the pre-teen ‘sex talk’ to start teaching young people about consent is far from ideal,” asserts Natalie Hamam, an occupational therapist whose focus on sexuality and disability includes teaching parents and caregivers about consent. “The good news is you can start teaching kids about consent from a very young age, without confronting discussions about rape or sexual violation. Parents can model and talk about the foundation skills for learning about consent from as early as the toddler years, and then slowly build the ideas as the child develops.” In her article for ABC News, she provides tips to teach kids about consent and establishing healthy, respectful boundaries long before they enter the dating world.
Hamam encourages parents to teach kids bodily autonomy from a young age, for example, by teaching kids that hugs and kisses have to be agreed upon by both parties. “You can insist on them being polite with a handshake or a high-five, eye contact and just saying ‘hello’…. don’t force them to kiss friends and family members when it’s clear they would rather not” — and if they want to give a friend a hug or a kiss, make sure they ask first. A helpful all-purpose rule should be that “good friends play games that both friends want to play.” If you hear your child pushing a friend to play a game, tell her, “It’s not OK to make our friends play games they don’t like,” and model a compromise by helping them pick a game they both enjoy.
If you didn’t start establishing these habits with your kids early, don’t worry; it’s never too late to start! Hamam says that “conversations about consent during middle childhood and the teenage years are still very valuable because by this stage, children can discuss hypothetical situations and reflect on events they have experienced or witnessed. Older children might also be more capable of understanding that consent is not a ‘once only’ discussion, but rather an ongoing agreement that can be changed at any stage.” By doing so, you can lay the groundwork for a healthy understanding of how consent works and be confident that your kids will develop positive relationships in the years to come.
To read more of Natalie Hamam’s tips for teaching consent to young kids, visit http://ab.co/2rnTYw3
For books to start teaching children — girls and boys alike — from a young age about the need to respect others and their personal boundaries, we recommend: “My Body! What I Say Goes!” for ages 3 to 6 (http://www.amightygirl.com/my-body), “Your Body Belongs To You” for ages 3 to 5 (http://www.amightygirl.com/your-body-belongs-to-you), and “I Said No! A Kid-to-kid Guide to Keeping Private Parts Private” for ages 4 to 7 (http://amzn.to/2pDSNH2)
For older children, issues of body autonomy, boundaries, and consent are discussed in more comprehensive books that also address topics such as puberty, sex education, and health, including “It’s So Amazing!” for ages 6 to 9 (http://www.amightygirl.com/it-s-so-amazing) and the more detailed “It’s Perfectly Normal” for ages 10 and up (http://www.amightygirl.com/it-s-perfectly)