Your child is never too young to start the conversation about consent. From a hug to a kiss on the cheek, all children are allowed ownership of their own bodies. And, teaching them they are allowed to set boundaries helps lay the foundation for your child’s understanding of personal safety.
But what happens when you need to address this sensitive topic with family members who don’t understand? Having these conversations with an upset Grandparent who wants a hug is hard. It can leave the issue feeling highly nuanced. However, standing firm to family is a practice in modeling boundaries for your children.
Begin these conversations as early as possible by using age-appropriate language and concepts. For younger children, you can discuss personal space and teach them the names of their body parts. Anatomical names are best! You don’t want your child to feel any shame about their own body, and you want them to be prepared to identify things correctly.
Focus on teaching your child about their body in a positive way. It is THEIR body, and they get to say who can get in their personal bubble. Start with a foundation of teaching consent and explain that it’s essential for people to ask for and give permission before touching someone else. Use examples like a hug. Explain how “Can I have a hug?” is asking for consent before you give one.
You can practice these scenarios to help your child learn how to assert their boundaries effectively. Teach your child that consent needs to be asked and given before they can touch someone else or someone can touch them. It’s important to then keep the conversation ongoing. Regularly check in with your child about their feelings towards personal space and their bodies. Plenty of great picture books illustrate this idea and can be a great starting point for conversation!
Addressing this topic with family can be challenging, especially if they come from a different generation. Start by explaining that your intentions are not to criticize how they interact but to ensure everyone is on the same page.
Find time to speak privately with family before a holiday party or event. Share how you’ve been teaching your child about body boundaries and consent. And, be specific about what those conversations look like. “We have been teaching X about Y.” By setting these intentional boundaries, you set the scene for how interactions may play out with your child.
It may get a bit tense sometimes, but remember that these are your children, and you can decide as you see fit. Hold those boundaries to model what it looks like to advocate for yourself. If it becomes uncomfortable, you can table the conversation for another time when emotions are not as high.
Remember, these conversations are a delicate balance between time and patience. In the end, we are aiming to model boundaries and appropriate behavior.
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