Understanding consent is crucial to becoming a sexually healthy adult.
As parents, we can teach our young people about consent well before we start talking with them about puberty, sex or other aspects of relationships. There are different ways we can teach. We can:
- Model good consent behaviour ourselves.
- Give them the words they need to say how they’re feeling and the words they need to talk about their own bodies.
- Teach them to trust their instincts and to act on them.
- Applaud co-operative playing – and give them the skills to manage when things aren’t going so well.
- Encourage the use of private space for private behaviours.
- Support their growing confidence and skills in being able to express their opinions, assert themselves and support others.
The skills we model and teach, and the skills our children learn at home, provide a foundation that will be built on when they are learning about sexuality and relationships at school.
We’ve put together our top 10 tips for teaching kids about consent:
- Use your words. Use the correct language for body parts – all body parts. Respectful language is a building block for respectful behaviour. It’s okay to have family names too – for example, “Willy is also called penis.” You can talk too about private and public parts of the body and public and private places.
- My body, my rules. We all have the right to say no when it comes to anything to do with our own bodies, so explain to them that no-one can touch them unless they say it’s okay. Bathing them when they’re little is a perfect time to practice this with them. Shall we wash your feet? Shall we wash your face? Shall we wash your penis? (Remember to use your words). If they say no, give them the cloth and talk them through the cleaning process.
- Stop. Teach them that no and stop are important words and should always be honoured.
- Hugs and kisses. Hugging and kissing is a choice both people make. Ask them – shall we give grandma a hug goodbye? If they don’t want to – don’t make a big scene – suggest that they blow grandma a kiss or wave goodbye.
- I feel good. Teach them to know what feels good and what doesn’t. Talk to them about ways they can express these feelings. This can be asking them what sorts of things do they like: “I like it when – you read me books. I like it when – we watch videos together.”
- Trust your instincts. Teach them to trust their instincts or “tummy feelings” - those feelings they have that something isn’t right. Talk to them about people they can talk to – adults they can trust when something isn’t right. It doesn’t always have to be a parent/caregiver.
- Empathy rules. Help them to develop their awareness of other people’s feelings and emotions. There are all sorts of ways to do this. Encourage them to look at people’s faces and body language and try to understand how other people are feeling and respond in appropriate ways.
- Other people count too. Help them to understand that their behaviour has an impact on other people and that it is never okay to force or coerce someone into doing something they don’t want to. It is also worthwhile to talk to them about manipulative behaviour. Manipulating other people to do what we want isn’t healthy and can become controlling or abusive behaviour.
- Please don’t tease. Don’t tease them about their friendships or relationships. If they’re worried about being laughed at, they’re less likely to confide in you or even tell you about friends and relationships.
- Be open and honest. Aim to be approachable and open to answering their questions. Do your best and if you don’t get it quite right, you can have another go sometime soon. If a question is asked at an awkward moment promise to talk to them later at a more suitable time – and make sure you do. If they ask you something you don’t know, tell them you don’t know and arrange to look it up together and find the answer together.
Talking about consent with your child doesn’t have to be daunting. The key is to break it into small pieces – to have lots of small interactions and conversations. Not only will this take the pressure off you ‘getting it right’ first time but it will build your child’s trust that it’s okay to talk and ask questions about these issues. And remember - it’s never too early to start!
Family Planning has clinics located throughout New Zealand. Use the clinic finder to find your nearest clinic.