For many generations, there has been a looming sense of pressure as a parent, that as your child moves into puberty you will have to face the awkward conversation and have ‘the talk’.
However, research shows that teaching Sex Education (bodily autonomy, consent, relationships) to children isn’t about one chat, it is many conversations, starting when they are young and it can set up positive dynamics in the home around sex and sexuality.
By teaching toddlers the proper names for body parts and helping them understand what parts of their bodies are private, we are helping to create awareness and safety around their bodies. We are also beginning a conversation at a young age that instills in our children that our growing bodies are a normal thing and it is ok to talk about it with us.
Talking about consent from a very young age also cements in children their rights around their bodies and helps them to establish a voice that can say “no” if something doesn’t feel right for them. They learn to dictate who is allowed into their personal space – including hugs and kisses.
It also teaches them to respect that in others too. Most importantly it is imperative in keeping our kids safe from unwanted touching. When a child is aware of what is private and understands consent, they are more likely to speak up about inappropriate touching or bring attention to a situation.
We can teach kids about consent by not making them kiss and hug adults to say hello or goodbye. Always giving our children the option to choose if they would like to touch someone, instills the inner barometer of honouring themselves. How many of us had to kiss old Aunt Jackie at family catch-ups and hated it because she smelled funny.
Offering our children alternative greetings can be a great way to model communication without having to use their bodies in a way that doesn’t feel good.
“Would you like to give Uncle John a fist pump goodbye, would you like to blow a kiss, would you like to wave.“
Fostering and supporting your child’s understanding of consent is more important than any adult’s hurt feelings because they didn’t get a hug.
Teaching this to our children at an early age, also helps them to navigate the teenage years which can be tricky around exploring sex. When they have a strong compass on what feels ok and what doesn’t, then they are more likely to trust themselves in situations and say what they need.
They also need a lot of practice when it comes to consent. If we expect teenagers to say no and have boundaries around consent, but they haven’t had any role modeling of what that looks like or have been able to practice it in the home, then it is very challenging when they are in a heated situation to set a limit and say no.
Bodily Autonomy and Consent are conversations that you will have over and over again. Using teachable moments such as siblings wrestling on the floor and one of them yelling “stop”.
If you can stop the play and say “ Did you hear that Charlie said a big loud Stop then, we need to listen and respect that stop.” (If you have more than one child there will be so many opportunities to practice this one)
Books are also a wonderful way to start the conversation. There are some excellent kids’ books on the market that discuss consent, body safety and respecting boundaries. All written in age-appropriate language.
It is also good to remember that kids learn about relationships and sexuality from us, so be aware of modeling good intimate relationships. Be playful, set boundaries and always be respectful to yourself and your partner. Talk about your own body in positive ways and model great self-care. As always in parenting, kids do what we do, not what we say.
Our goal is to raise sexually aware teens, who have good boundaries, respect their partners and explore safely, so they can experience pleasure, intimacy, and relationship in a healthy and satisfying way. So start the conversation early and equip your children with the tools and knowledge to have positive relationships.