Body safety and consent for kids
By Babysits, 4 min read
Body safety and consent may seem like a recent trend but it is a subject which should be taken seriously. People are now discovering the importance of bodily autonomy and consent for children. If this topic is new to you, or you need help understanding what is important, here are some tips to help you teach your child(ren) about body safety and consent:
''Body safety and consent is the understanding that you are the only decision-maker in determining who can interact with you physically''
Talk about consent with family and friends
For young children, bodily autonomy and consent can only be encouraged if parents, family, and friends have bought in. Older members of the family may feel confused or even suggest you are being overly protective and dramatic, but it is important for you as a parent to encourage everyone to respect the child’s wishes. Grandparents may not understand when your child does not want to give them a kiss or hug upon greeting, it is important to show them they can offer a less invasive alternative, such as a high five if that is what the child is more comfortable with. If your child refuses to give you a warm hug before bedtime, be sure to tell them ‘it’s ok, I know you love me even if you don’t want a hug right now’. This teaches children not to feel guilty for refusing physical contact, and that they decide who can enter their personal space.
Encourage your child to talk about their feelings
Adults often struggle to talk openly about their feelings. This can lead to arguments with spouses, relatives, friends, and colleagues. This can be very detrimental to a child's emotional development. Therefore, it is important to lead by example for your children. We need to teach children how to identify different feelings and how to express them comfortably. A simple way to teach a child about their emotions is by helping them label their emotions throughout the day. You can use bedtime stories as an opportunity to talk about emotions, ask them what feeling a character is experiencing and why. This helps them identify different emotions and normalises why they feel them.
Create a safety network
It is important that children have at least three adults that they feel they can trust to share any worries with them. One of these should be outside the family unit. This allows your child to have a network of people they trust to talk to if anything happens where they feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
Explain to your child that everyone has a body boundary
Whilst as children we may have never heard of the term body boundaries, it must become an important part of every parent’s journey when it comes to raising their children. Explain to your child that body boundary is an invisible bubble surrounding them at all times. Their body boundary is a place where nobody should enter without the child’s consent. Every child has the right to say ‘no’ to hugs and kisses from family, friends, strangers, etc. If as a parent you are struggling with this, it is also good to suggest alternatives such as blowing a kiss or even doing a cool handshake.
Teach your children to respect body boundary
Keep it simple, let your child know that if they want to hold hands with a friend at school, they need to ask permission first. Explain that if their friend says ‘no’ that this is ok and they must respect their decision. It is also good to explain that consent can be withdrawn at any moment.
It is important to teach our children to treat everyone as equals, and to ignore gender stereotypes. For your daughters, do not focus on complementing their appearance, rather complement the qualities she has, such as her humor or kind heart. For sons, focus less on their masculinity and more on their loving nature. Use gender-neutral language, instead of using the word fireman, use fire officer. Understand that not all girls want to play with barbies, give them the freedom to play with whatever toys they wish. These suggestions may seem small, but they make a huge difference to our society and future generations.
It is normal to feel unsure while introducing these new rules for your family and friends. Be assured that taking these decisions on board today will make a real difference in your children's development. Giving them self confidence, self-respect and a greater awareness of their feelings and how to act upon them.