Teaching My Children Consent
I remember rubbing my fingers on the keyboard, afraid to stroke the keys and announce to my Facebook bubble that I was included in a sorority I never wanted to be a part of. I did that dance with my fingertips for days. When it was over and I had made my declaration by typing #metoo, I hit enter, closed out the app and didn’t look at Facebook again until the next day.
When our three older children, ages 11, 10 and 9 tell our 3 year old twin boys, “Give me a kiss,” sometimes the twins run away. Sometimes they shake their head and say no, stretching out the “o” for emphasis. Most times the older three laugh it off and say it again. Sometimes they hug them anyway while one of them pushes them off. I interject and ask them to look in my eyes.
“Don’t tell him to kiss you or hug you. Ask. If they say no, then it’s no. He doesn’t want to. Respect his choice.”
When our children are playing and I hear one of them screaming, “get off of me,” more than once, louder each time, I immediately call them all upstairs. I ask for the play by play. This is normally followed by brief silence or some obligatory explanation that doesn’t add up.
My husband and I emphasize three main things: body language, tone of voice and consent. Pushing, stiffening one’s body, changes in facial expression indicate with a person’s body that they are uncomfortable. Forceful inflections in a person’s tone of voice means a person is unhappy or uncomfortable. And lastly, when someone verbal tells you no, or any other word or words that indicate for you to stop, you stop. The first time. Don’t wait for them to say it again a second time to be sure. They were sure the first time.
In our home, love taps are antiquated and are not mentioned to describe someone showing affection nor is it used to show someone affection. My sons are taught that their bodies are (sometimes) made bigger and stronger than a female’s because they are to be a protector of, not a ruler over. We use our words to communicate our thoughts, feelings and emotions. I give my children permission to recognize, understand and name their feelings. I give them permission to not justify or explain away their interaction with their own bodies. Further, I teach them to respect the autonomy that others have other their bodies. I ask my children for hugs and explain to them they don’t have to hug any other person if they don’t want to. I even indirectly coach the other adults in their life. If someone says, “Come give me a hug,” I interject and rephrase their request as a question. I’ll say, “Hey, would you like to give them a hug?”
Providing your children with a choice instead of demand empowers them to be comfortable with asserting themselves. Further it takes the pressure off of us parents to see the blossoming of their minds come full circle in their ability to make a choice and be ok with the outcomes. The reinventing of the wheel starts even as small children. The agency of one’s body is a learned behavior, reinforced by the culture surrounding them. So when my child says “no,” or indicates it through their body language, it’s a no. No exceptions. Their body, their choice.
I’m hoping to build up children that confidently speak up when they are uncomfortable. Hopefully, my anxiety typing a few keystrokes to uncover my truth won’t be a part of their narrative.
Let’s discuss! Do you teach your children about consent? If so, how? Looking forward to learning from you!