The first building block of comprehensive sex education is simple: consent. It’s never too early to teach your children about consent, both to protect them and to ensure that they are able to have healthy connections in the future. Well-informed children with a good understanding of consent become perceptive adults who can foster nourishing relationships – sexual or otherwise. Moreover, it is important to protect your children from potential harm (though the burden of responsibility should always be assigned to the perpetrator). Here are five techniques, appropriate for kids of any age, to help you educate your child about consent.
- Lead by example
Model what healthy relationships look like for your child. This does not have to strictly be a romantic relationship. From your friendships to familial relations, display straightforward signs of respect and mutual understanding, such as requests for permission to hug someone or share objects. With time, this will reflect in your child’s behaviour as they are likely to imitate and recreate actions they have observed.
- ‘No’ as a tool for respect and empowerment
Rejection is a scary thing, no matter how old you are. Whether it is being denied their favourite toy at age seven or the fear of rejection they confront when they ask someone out for the first time at fifteen, rejection and the fear of it are powerful emotions for any child to experience.
Instead of villianising those feelings, teach your children that everyone has the right to make choices – including them. When they understand someone else’s right to say no, they realise their own ability to to do same in order to protect themselves too.
- Respect is a two-way street
Have you ever forced your child to hug a family member even if they didn’t want to? Or maybe you coerced them into something even though they were visibly nervous or anxious. As parents, we often forget that respect and trust are not granted to us simply because of the positions we hold in our children’s lives.
To show your child that their emotions and wishes are as important as yours, respect their decisions (within reasonable limits) in the same manner as you would like them to respect yours.
- Consent charts
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, Liz Kleinrock, a third-grade teacher at Citizens of the World Charter School Silver Lake in Los Angeles, posted photos to Instagram and Facebook of a consent chart she had made to help her students learn more about the term.
The chart sums up the key components of consent and provides a definition, examples of what it looks like, and situations it should be used in. This could be a good way to teach your kids about consent too.
- Avoid stereotyping
Child predators are usually not as we have imagined them to be. They aren’t typically strangers lurking in dark alleyways; Darkness to Light, a nonprofit committed to empowering adults to prevent child sexual abuse, estimates that about 90% of children who experienced sexual abuse knew their predator.
Therefore, don’t focus on selling a false narrative to your child. Teach them to look out for telltale warning signs instead. Is a teacher trying to spend time alone with them far too often? Did a family member force them to have an uncomfortable conversation? Open conversations free of judgement will help them identify problematic behaviours and vent through them. In this manner, they will also learn to trust you more and will feel more comfortable if they ever need to confide in you regarding a ‘bad touch.’