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Teaching your child the importance of knowing what you like and being able to tell others what you want
I WANT TO… encourage my young child to know themselves & their body
Young children will naturally explore their bodies and what feels good to them physically. Your message: that’s OK but do it in private
It’s natural for children to be curious and self-knowledge is healthy – so be careful not to project adult shame or worries about sexualisation onto them
Encourage body positivity & self-acceptance by reassuring them that they are strong, capable, healthy – and fine as they are. Self-knowledge and confidence will later help them assert what they don’t want
How can we help?
I WANT TO… safeguard my young child by talking about boundaries
Use the correct words for body parts from early on. It’s protective for kids to be armed with knowledge, because an informed child is more likely to deter predatory people (they are less likely to approach a child who’s informed). And an informed child is also likely to confide in a trusted adult if something happens
If you don’t use correct terms – if you don’t say “vulva” or “penis” out loud – you are automatically imposing a sense of secrecy and shame onto body parts that shouldn’t feel any more awkward to label than eyes or elbows
Start safeguarding early. If you make it clear to your child that they have a right to bodily autonomy, to defining their boundaries and personal space – you will have laid the cornerstones of consent. Also important is having them learn to recognise the difference between safe and unwanted touch
Never force your child to hug or kiss anyone. Let them have a say about being hugged, kissed or tickled
Practise consent by example (ask if you can kiss your child goodnight), give them bodily autonomy (let them choose what to wear), teach them to listen to their bodies (and to say what feels good and what doesn’t), teach them how to handle physical rejection (everyone is in control of their own body), believe your child and advocate for them, says the Gottman Institute in Beyond The Talk
Teach your kids that “no” and “stop” are important words and should be honoured. One way to explain this may be: “Sarah said ‘no’, and when we hear ‘no’ we always stop what we’re doing immediately”… If a friend doesn’t stop when we say “no,” then we need to think about whether or not we feel good, and safe, playing with them. If not, it’s OK to choose other friends
The Good Men Project – This Is How You Teach Kids About Consent (HuffPost, 2017)
I WANT TO… safeguard my older child by talking about consent
Remind your child to check in and communicate, by modelling this behaviour and calling them out on it when you don't see it
Not all young people know that consent can change or be withdrawn at any point, and that it can be granted or denied with body language.
Help your child learn to recognise whether something feels right physically or comfortable emotionally – or not – and to recognise those verbal or non-verbal cues.
Model seeking enthusiastic, ongoing consent: “Is this OK?" if you're giving them a stroke on the head, or "can I give you a cuddle" if you're comforting them after a tough day. Call it out if you don't see them doing the same, or if you don't see them hearing 'no' - and name the issue of consent to make the connection.
Consent is a key life lesson that parents ought to share with their adolescents. While teens may be alert to signs of sexual assault, many are unable to detect sexual coercion, as it is typically not mentioned at school. Prepare your child so they can spot manipulative behaviour and teach them what a respectful relationship looks like (ie not being pressured to send nudes), advises the UK Council for Internet Safety in this 2016 report on sexting
Your child may be afraid to ask for consent because they fear rejection. Remind them that it is better to ask and be told “no” than to just go for it. Also they often don’t want to say no to someone they like because they don’t want to hurt their feelings. Instead they can say: “I like you but I’m not ready” or “I don’t want to” or “No, not yet.” These suggestions come directly from young people about how best to handle rejection, says Jennifer Cassaly in How to Talk to Your Child About Sexual Consent (September 2019)
What is consent?
Consent needs to be enthusiastic & ongoing – and it can change along the way
Consent is an agreement
Consent is a value, a code of conduct around trust and empathy
It’s about respecting someone else and about self-respect
Consent is a way to create connection
Consent requires self-knowledge around what gives you pleasure and what doesn’t
- Consent requires self-confidence: asserting your needs, advocating for your desires & standing up for yourself
Expressing enthusiastic consent gives people greater self-respect and self-knowledge
Consent can be granted, refused or withdrawn via body language or facial expressions as well as words or noises
Consent can be refused without the word 'no': "I'm not in the mood. Could we just…?” or “I’m not comfortable with that right now…” or “No, but let’s…”
It’s helpful for both girls and boys to acknowledge that boys are conditioned to expect entitlement and girls are socialised to defer to other people. This is a message that can be delivered with relation to a third party situation or cultural reference: you don't have to be talking about sex.
If you want to be good at love and sex, you have to be respectful. All relationships between two people need respect. Why would anyone share their deepest secrets with someone who shows no respect, asks Inti Chavez Perez in Respect: Everything a Guy Needs to Know About Sex, Love and Consent (2019)
Watch it first, then suggest that your young teen watch Screwball! This award-winning 12-minute video covers consent, sex & the impact of porn in a loving teen relationship. It’s entertaining, funny and relatable
We’re a generation of adults who have been deeply impacted by not having awareness and understanding of our bodies and of consent
Melissa Pintor Carnagey – How to Talk to Your Kids About Consent (August 2019)
Do you know what sexual consent is? It’s actually pretty simple.
“Yes!” is the only word that means yes. “No” means no, as do a lot of other words, and sometimes no words at all.
Remember, consent means that the person you’re with feels safe and wants to do what you’re doing.
If you’re not sure, ask. Even if asking seems awkward, it’s the right thing to do
Campaign to Empower Dads to Teach Their Sons About Consent (White Ribbon, November 2017)
More help with #Consent
Remember: every child is different. Adjust these suggestions for the age and stage of your child. Children with special educational needs and disabilities, looked-after children and children who have experienced abuse may all need different support.
If you’re in doubt about your child’s development, you should seek the advice of a professional