It’s critical that we teach children about consent and body autonomy from a young age so they know what boundaries are as they grow older.
It’s never too early to start teaching your child about body consent. Teaching children about consent is about making them aware that they have the option and the power to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to things relating to their body.
Children need to know that they are in control of their own bodies and even mom and dad cannot forcefully touch them without their consent. So, home is the first place to learn these lessons, and the child’s parents are their first teachers.
Encourage the words ‘no’ and ‘stop’
To do this, parents can initiate games that children will enjoy, and inevitably learn something.
“Tickle and stop” for instance makes kids aware that mom and dad stop when I say so. “Encourage them to use the words no and stop,” says Clinical Psychologist, Jenny Rose. “It is important, however, to stop when they say you should.”
At a stage where children do not recognise that their bodies as separate from their parents, you can use playfulness to educate them.
Drawing your hand next to theirs on paper makes them slowly realise that their bodies are separate entities. Children become increasingly aware of their bodies at around six months. They grow increasingly interested in looking at themselves in the mirror during this stage.
Talking to them when changing their clothes or bathing them teaches them that you respect their bodies and they become more aware of it. “I am going to put bum cream on your bum now,” or “I am going to take off your t-shirt now,” are some conversational pointers to use with your child.
What about content in a school environment?
When children are not taught about consent at home, they can easily invade the physical space of other children at school.
Schools can easily “undo” lessons learned at home if the same is not being taught to kids in the classroom. If kids understand body autonomy and their peers do not stop when they say “no” this becomes conflicting for the child. This is where teachers need to weigh in with the right response.
For example, if three-year-old Tshimo knows that others should not touch her bum, and another child does, this creates questions around what mom and dad have been teaching her at home.
Schools need to find age-appropriate ways to teach children how to interact with each other in respectful and non-invasive ways.