Teaching Your Young Child About Consent
Asking for consent means asking someone for permission to do something. An example might be asking if it's okay to touch someone or be physically close to them. Someone gives consent when they know exactly what they are being asked to do, and they agree clearly, without being pressured.
How can you teach your young child about consent?
Kids can start learning about consent at any age. For a younger child, that may mean learning about physical boundaries. The main goals are for them to learn that their body belongs to them, other people's bodies belong to other people, and part of being caring is respecting someone's personal space. Here are some tips.
- Help your child feel like they're in charge of their body.
Teach your child that their body belongs to them. Nobody should touch them without their permission.
- Model asking for consent.
You can do this in small but meaningful ways every day. For example, you can ask a toddler if you can tickle them, or if it's okay to give them a hug.
- Accept your child's answer.
When your child doesn't want to be touched, respect that. When you respect their answer, you help empower them.
If you need to prevent your child from getting hurt, that's an exception. For example, you might be in a busy parking lot and your child doesn't want to get in the car. In this case, it's okay to pick them up and put them in the car. Explain to your child that you're just trying to keep them safe.
- Teach your child how to ask others for permission to touch or be close to them.
You can say things like, "It's so nice that you like to give your teacher hugs! Remember to always ask first." Or, "Going down the slide with a friend is really fun. But sometimes our friends want space for their bodies. Ask your friend if it's okay for you to go down together, or if taking turns sounds better."
- Help your child learn how to accept a "no" from someone else.
Explain to your child that it's okay to feel sad when somebody tells them they don't want to be touched. But reinforce that giving somebody space when they need it is a way to be caring and kind.
Understanding consent can help children have a better sense of physical boundaries. It can also help a child know what it means to respect others' boundaries, and what it looks like when somebody does not respect theirs. Being able to see and respect another person's boundaries is an important part of forming healthy relationships all through life.
Current as of: February 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Andrew Littlefield PhD - Psychology, Behavioral Health
Lesley Ryan MD - Family Medicine