It’s never the right time until you have “the talk.”
by Khushi Mohunta
In this day and age, the world revolves around consent culture. Consent is something way more than just saying “no means no.” Goldenberg says, “With consent, sexuality is only the tip of the iceberg. This is just fundamentally about how to be with other people.” Children are able to understand concepts if discussed in an age-appropriate way, e.g., respect and consent around touching bodies, which is addressed in many sensitization classes.
Here’s how you can talk to your child about consent and let them know that not everything is okay and not every nod is a yes.
Let’s Talk Consent
“Consent” means different things to different people. As a parent, never assume what consent means for your child. Talk about it. This will give you an idea of what consent means for your child and how you can have a meaningful conversation around it.
Talking to your child can seem like a herculean task, but it doesn’t have to be daunting. The key is to break it into small pieces through interactions and conversations.
“Feeling it hard to break the ice?” Here are a few tips:
- Model Consent in Everyday Interactions: Parents should teach consent and model it in every possible way. This practice will help children establish their own physical boundaries and recognize the boundaries of others at an early age. Learning about consent through open communication will make them self-aware and cautious, not only about themselves but also about the world. Talks around consent should be a part of your everyday interactions and modelling it an essential to parenting.
- Be Respectful in How You Speak to Them: The way you speak to your child has a direct correlation to their growth. Be prepared for conversations and find appropriate resources to build confidence. Talk early and often, building on the conversation and developing the trust of talking together. It can have either an alleviating or a downstream effect on them. By facilitating a respectful discussion, you establish the groundwork for them to understand the right way to interact with them. Regardless, being respectful to them will give them an empowering tone and prepare them to say no. One should show respect through words and actions so that one learns to expect it from everyone.
- Consent should be given each time: Let your child know they need to ask for consent each time. Consent can be revoked and the terms of it can change even midway through. For example, you might have been allowed to play with your siblings’ building blocks last week, but you need to ask if you can play with them today. And, if they change their mind after you have already started playing, or if they don’t like the way you are smashing their building blocks up, they can still change their mind and say that you can’t play with them.
- Train Your Child to Trust Their Intuition and Feelings: Validating your child’s feelings about their body from day one teaches children that they have a voice and right over their bodies.
- Let Your Discomfort Come Out As Comfort: “We’re a generation of adults who have been deeply impacted by not having awareness and understanding of our bodies and of consent.” Don’t wait for children to ask questions, they pick up taboos early. So, teach them before it’s late.
- Talk About “Good Touch” and “Bad Touch”: Speaking about good or appropriate and bad or inappropriate touch is an essential part of parenting and educating children. It also serves as a stepping stone to consent. Teach your children about different kinds of touch like rubbing, poking, scratching, and tickling. Make a clear demarcation between threatening and non-threatening touches, like a high-five or side hug for them. Teach them to set boundaries and make choices regarding their own body from an early age.
Role-playing is an essential and excellent way to help kids navigate uncomfortable situations. With boys, fathers especially need to be a part of the conversation. As they relate to them more due to socially set gender roles. Children may not always be vocal about how they feel, but they need to be heard. Communication with them will help foster trust and bridge gaps. Good communication is always two ways, to hear and be heard. Sometimes, just knowing that you will be heard without any judgments is comforting. As a parent, be that comforter for your kid and let them feel safe enough to be vulnerable in front of and confide in you.