Why Do We Need to Talk to our Young Kids About Consent?
*Trigger Warning: This blog addresses sexual abuse.
It is difficult for parents to know when to begin discussions about consent with their kids. When it comes to sex education the question often comes up “why do I need to talk to my young child about sex”? Providing education about consent when having conversations with our children about sexual activity and sexual development is crucial, however talking about consent is not always about sex.
Discussions with young people about consent, if done in an age-appropriate manner, can relate to several different natural and developmentally appropriate conversations about the body, safety, and choice. For parents of children aged 5 to 9 conversations about consent can look like providing them with the correct information and ongoing dialogue around the following:
Appropriate boundaries: teaching our kids about healthy boundaries can look like answering questions such as: "Is my friend allowed to call me names?" "Can I share my toys?" It can also look like establishing boundaries about race, gender and lgbtq+ identities
Asking for permission: At its core, consent is about providing permission in an empowered space. Supporting children in how to ask permission, and how to support their peers in how to ask for permission provides a wonderful opportunity to both learn body safety and develop empathy. For example, "Can I give you a hug?", "Are you okay if I give you a high five?", "Can I join in this game?", etc.
Asserting themselves: Education about consent at a young age sets your child up for a lifelong habit of asserting themselves. They will begin to develop the vocabulary and understanding needed around what is okay and not okay with their body and choices. This, in turn, allows kids to empower themselves to communicate what they are comfortable with, and what they are not comfortable with. This prepares your child to affirm themselves with such statements as “no, I do not want to be touched there", "I am going to tell someone that you touched me there", "I don’t like it when you call me that name", "that is not right to talk to me that way”, etc.
Healthy versus unhealthy touch: Talking about what is healthy versus unhealthy when it comes to our children’s bodies and touch increases the chances of keeping our children safe from harm from others, and normalizes conversations around body safety. There are so many great age-appropriate resources regarding this topic and can easily be brought up in natural conversations during bath time and bedtime routines.
Who to go to for help if needed: Directing your children toward who they can talk to if they are concerned or worried is always recommended! There is so much confusion and misunderstanding when it comes to learning about bodies, choice, and boundaries. Directing our children toward safe adults (guardians, teachers, medical professionals etc.) to talk to when something feels "off" can only reduce the risk of harm.
Having this knowledge puts children at lower risk of being sexually abused and at a higher likelihood of having a positive body image. It also empowers your child with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions and helps develop empathy and emotional growth.
Starting this conversation when your child is young and continuing throughout their development to provide more age-appropriate information as they get older can only provide your children with healthy and correct information.
Some great resources for discussing consent for younger children:
Milton Psychotherapy Centre is not affiliated with, or sponsored to endorse these products and resources.
It is important to note that this writing is based on my perspective/education/training as a white woman of privilege. The intention of this blog is for the sole purpose of offering support and help.