Saying No: Teaching Children about Consent
A little while ago, I read a couple of articles (here and here) which echoed the thoughts I had been having myself on the same topic. Consent. Particularly, the consent of children. How do we teach children about consent, that consent (theirs or someone else’s) is important?
Think about it – Aunty Beryl pops round for tea and expects a hug and a kiss from your children when she leaves. Said children aren’t overly keen on the idea – whether it’s because of the big boil on her chin or her sickly sweet perfume or just that they don’t actually want to hug her. Should you encourage them to do it anyway, or respect their decision and let Aunty Beryl leave without a hug and a kiss?
PK used to love to give kisses to everyone, but he’s going through a phase where he doesn’t want to give kisses. If you ask him for a kiss, he’ll gleefully say “no!” and it was this that got me thinking about this topic. I realised that when he said no, I wanted to coerce him, to say “come on, give Mama a kiss”. But if I do that, what am I teaching him, and Plum and Bean? That you don’t have to respect someone’s answer when they say “no”?
If a child doesn’t want to give Aunty Beryl a hug and we don’t respect that, and make them do it anyway, are we telling them that it doesn’t matter whether they want to or not – that they should do as they’re told. It’s a dangerous road to go down, for so many reasons.
We need to children to know that they have ultimate control over their decisions, over their own body and we can’t teach them that on one hand whilst taking that control away over simple “harmless” things like kissing a parent or hugging a relative on the other.
When our children are older, we of course want them to know that they still have control over their own bodies; that they have an absolute right to say “no”. And we want them to respect that right in others too. We can’t wait until our children have become teenagers to teach them to respect their own and others’ rights. That lesson needs to have been learned right from the start. They need to have had that right respected, and have seen others respecting that right; we can’t try and tag that on later.
Now, I think that tickling and being silly and pretending to eat my kid’s feet is one of the greatest parenting skills out there. So, I definitely don’t think that tickling is bad or rough housing is bad. I think the important thing is that the minute your kid says “no”, you stop. Even if you know they’re kidding, teach them that “no” means that the other person will stop. They’ll learn both that their “no” matters and they’ll learn that if someone says “no” to them that they should immediately listen.
We have to ensure that what we teach children through our behaviours and expectations is what we want them to fall back on when we aren’t there. If we insist on hugs and kisses for us or others when the child doesn’t want to – we’re telling them that it’s OK to ignore another’s feelings.
And so we are working on this in our family. Teaching the children that it’s great fun to tickle each other, but when one person yells “Stop!”, even if they are giggling at the time, then it’s time to stop. If PK says “no” to a hug or kiss, then we don’t insist – and that goes for the other children too.