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.


Teach children about consent


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.





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14 comments on “Saying No: Teaching Children about Consent

  1. Absolutely brilliant post which covered my one concern: that they think they have power because they can always make the other child stop. That they will misuse this power. What your post teaches me is that they won’t; they’ll simply learn that power must be used responsibly… yes that they have it, but if they misuse it, there will be other consequences.

  2. Your message is an important one. When I was a child 70 years ago, children were expected to do what adults told them. As you point out, it’s not exactly safe.

  3. Wow! Thought provoking stuff. When I take my little boy to visit family he often refuses to kiss them goodbay, and I feel embarrassed and make him give out kisses. But lately I’ve got round this by letting him blow them a kiss if he doesn’t want to give them one.


  4. It definitely makes you think doesn’t it? I think it’s so important for kiddies to realise their independence and know they can make their own decisions but so many people/parents do little things that they don’t realise can have a huge affect in later life

  5. This is an excellent post Nicola. Stacey always used to tell people she didn’t want to kiss that she’d ‘run out’ so then I’d just ask her if she’d like to blow them a kiss instead (to which she would usually repeat that she’d run out lol).

    With Oscar I just didn’t try to encourage kissing unless the person asked, but he has learnt to kiss from his sister and now goes round planting great big sloppy ones on everyone when we leave. I don’t know how long this phase will last though!

    I used to get upset when Stacey wouldn’t kiss me. After all, I’m her mummy. But I do think it’s important to respect your kids boundaries and I would never try to make either of them kiss anyone if they didn’t want to.

    Gosh, I went on a bit there didn’t I?! Really sorry!!

    Louise x

    • No need to apologise. When he was a toddler, Bean used to regularly “run out” of hugs and kisses. We would find some spare ones lurking in a pocket, but tell him they were his emergency hugs for when he had run out but really wanted one (so he didn’t feel pressured to give someone a hug if he didn’t want to).

      PK is just experimenting with his independence and the idea that he can make choices of his own. If he’s asked for a kiss, he’ll usually say no, but if he wants a kiss, he has no problem climbing up and getting one. All on his terms!

      Plum never seems to run out, and would talk, hug and kiss anyone. There’s another minefield to explore.

  6. I completely agree! We don’t ever make out kids hug or kiss someone if they are uncomfortable doing so. And tickling and other fun play stops as soon as they want it to. It’s all about respect and consent – great post!

  7. 1) congrats on Mumsnet! 2) my girl is not good at goodbyes. She’s not even a fan of giving me a big kiss but elderly relatives always take like massive huge offence at it! I never force her. I could see it upset her so I just have to explain she’s not brill at goodbyes and off she pops happily xxx

  8. an interesting read! i guess it is good to allow children to control themselves and not to force them into anything they feel uncomfortable with. then it makes me think is it good to push them out of their comfort zone?!

    • I think there are times that it can be OK to push children out of their comfort zone a little, but I don’t think this is one of them.

      When it comes to kissing, hugging, touching of any kind, I think it’s dangerous to push them. What will it teach them? Will it teach our sons to push a teenage girlfriend further than she’s comfortable with? Will it teach our daughters to ignore what they feel and do what makes someone else happy?

  9. Really really interesting post, my little one’s far to young for this to be an issue, he can’t even say NO yet. But I feel very strongly that as he gets older if he doesn’t want to hug and kiss relatives he shouldn’t have to, I think it’s so important to teach children from the start that they have to give their consent for physical contact 🙂

  10. I blogged about this a few months back ( – it’s something which I hadn’t even thought about before having Eleanor as I used to kiss relatives and family friends, even when it felt awkward. But as soon as I really thought about it I realised what a weird situation it is where it’s OK to make a kid kiss someone against their will. It’s one of those things where people’s knee-jerk reaction is, “well I did that as a child,” but if they actually thought about it they would realise that just because it’s the done thing doesn’t make it right.

  11. Really interesting post. I think children be given the option to say no every once in a while, but guided by advice from an adult.

  12. Absolutely – although there have been a couple of times their physical space has been overruled in cases of needing to clean up an injury/son having a meccano screw removed from his nose, etc. But when it comes to kisses I can’ t see any benefit in forcing children to give a family member a kiss goodbye – there doesn’t need to be a reason – even if a small child is simply enjoying saying no for the sake of saying no, this is one area where no means no,

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