“Speak to your children as if they are the wisest, kindest, most beautiful and magical humans on earth, for what they believe is what they will become.”
— Brooke Hampton
Inevitably, if you have a child, you have most likely been in a situation where you have asked them to hug or kiss someone. To show thanks, gratitude or to simply say hello or goodbye to a grandparent, relative or friend.
Your child may have reacted with compliance or some reluctance, but usually they listen to what you are asking them to do. When we do this to our children, we are giving them their first lesson in consent.
They may be kids, however, they have an innate feeling of what they feel comfortable with as the individual that they are. When we start to force them to change the way they feel about boundaries, we are, in essence, taking away their individual right to say no to situations that they are uncomfortable with.
Children can begin to be taught about consent and empowerment as early as age 1. In providing this education to our children, it is our sincere belief that we can raise empowered young adults who have empathy for others’ feelings as well as a healthy understanding of consent. These lessons carry over for them as they become teenagers and into adulthood.
Here are some helpful tips on teaching consent…
Children ages 1-5. Teach children to ask permission before touching friends and relatives. Use language such as, “Lauren, let’s ask Matt if he would like a hug bye-bye.” If Matt says “no,” redirect Lauren cheerfully by encouraging her to wave instead.
At this age you can also help to create empathy within your child by talking to them when they may have hurt someone else’s feelings. Encourage your child to think about how they would have felt if the situation had happened to them.
Teach your children that “stop” and “no” are important words that should be respected, not only be them, but by others. This is also a great age to teach your child about how to help others when they are in trouble. Talk to your children about alerting grown-ups in these situations.
Never force a child to hug, touch or kiss anybody no matter who it may be. Allow children to feel as if they can talk to you about their bodies and how they are feeling. Believe it or not, at this age, children are also able to have “gut instincts” about people or situations. Encourage them to trust their feelings and instincts.
Children ages 5-12. Talk to your child about how their bodies are changing and growing at all ages. From loose teeth to puberty, your ability as a parent to talk your kids through these stages of life set the stage for their willingness to come to you in the future.
This stage is a good time to encourage your children to talk to you about things that make them feel good and what doesn’t. Learn from them what their boundaries are as individuals. Remind your child that what they are going through is normal and that you are there for them. Educate your children about the body language and boundaries of others that they come into contact with as well.
This stage inherently means that your kids are school-age or have contact with children who are in school settings. Teach your children to ask educators, school counselors and other adults for help with situations when you are not there. Encourage your child to take part in activities such as character council and other activities that allow them the opportunity to help their fellow classmates and friends.
Teens and young adults. This is the time where all of the groundwork that you have laid as a parent throughout your child’s formative years really comes into play. Teach your teen methods for creating a healthy and positive self-esteem when it comes to their bodies, relationships and sex. Talk to your teens about not only your boundaries as their parent, but also about their boundaries as individuals.
Talk honestly with your teens about what healthy relationships look like. This is the perfect time to break the cycle of teaching kids that people who are mean to them or treat them badly are doing so because they like or are interested in them.
These talks will have a huge impact on your child’s decisions in their future adult relationships. Teens want more information and listen to you more than you think. You are the number one influence in their lives.
Check out www.loveisrespect.org for more information, pamphlets, quizzes and more for your teens.
Misty Schaecher of Grand Island is the interim executive director for Crisis Center, Inc. The mother of two is also a certified Child Forensic Interviewer and is a board member for the Association of Child Abuse Prevention. “I’m a parent … what now?” is a monthly column from the Grand Island Association for Child Abuse Prevention, which represents many child-serving agencies in the community. If you need help dealing with parenting issues, call the Nebraska Family Helpline, “Any Problem. Any Time,” at (888) 866-8660.