Yep, you read that right. If you’re planning on teaching your kids about consent (and you should be), start today. “But my kid is only two!” Yep, start today. Oh, you’ve just brought your baby home from the hospital? Start now.
I’m not crazy, I promise. Let’s geek out a little and look up the definition of consent. It’s actually not as big and scary of a concept as a lot of people make it. And it’s not sexually exclusive. It very simply means “permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.” Boom. Simple. Done.
When I thought about teaching this to my children (who are three and eighteen months) it seemed simple to me. Nobody gives them hugs or kisses without their permission. I don’t care if it’s an aunt, grandma, sibling, or even me. And listen, that can be so hard. Even as an adult, it’s hard to get rejected. And people from some generations take longer to get used to this idea.
And while still relatively simple, the flip side of this was a bit trickier for my super affectionate toddler. When he was younger he would literally tackle-hug his little friends. He went through a “puppy kissing” phase. He still begs to be snuggled at bed time. Physical touch is absolutely his love language. That being said, he’s finally mastering consent. He asks permission to give hugs, kisses, high fives, share toys, (you get the idea) and when he’s denied he says, “Okay!” and carries on.
And I thought that was that. Mission accomplished. But the more I parent the more I glean, the more I learn from others, the more I wonder what’s the best route in the gray areas of this controversial issue.
Last week, I was reading an article in which a babysitter didn’t change a child’s diaper for the entire span of care because each time she asked, the toddler said no. My first thought was, “Are you serious?” What about diaper rash? What about hygiene? What about not letting the kid be the boss? But as I continued considering the issue, I’m not so sure my initial reaction was fair. Should we really allow those who aren’t the parents of our children to forcefully change a diaper? And even if the answer is yes – what kind of message does that send to a child?
Have you ever told your pediatrician that they had to ask your two-year-old for permission to examine their genitals during a 24 month well check? If you haven’t, yeah, the doctor may give you an awkward look (mine did). But that’s it. Before then, the pediatrician had always looked to me for consent. But after a good friend mentioned how she approached it, I quickly jumped on board even with my young children.
“But what if your child says no?! What if they had a major issue ‘down there’ and it goes untreated because they didn’t consent?! Do you let your kids boss you around?!” These are actual, and legitimate questions I’ve received. And I totally get it. There’s validity to those concerns and every child and parent and family is different – but this works for us. If my child says no I explain the situation. I make recommendations. I let them know why, at a doctor’s visit, for example, I would say it’s okay. I also explain that even with the doctor it is ONLY okay because mama or daddy is present. And if my kid still says no, well, it hasn’t happened yet but for the time being, I guess that will be that.
And no, it isn’t about my kids being the boss of me. It’s about allowing them to be the boss of themselves. It’s my job as a parent to lead and guide and train them in the way they should go. And will they mess up? ABSOLUTELY. Without a doubt. Many times. And so will I. But one thing I refuse to mess up is teaching them the importance of consent. That it’s okay to say no. That just because someone is in a position of power does not mean that you have to do or allow things that you are uncomfortable with. And that the same goes for how we treat others.
So maybe your child isn’t even verbal yet and you wonder how this could apply to you. For me, it was almost a total change in mindset when I became a parent. I had to reprogram my brain in the little everyday things. It meant not just hugging people because I’m a hugger. It means asking my adult baby sister if she likes it when I snuggle her (she does) instead of just assuming so. It means not feigning disappointment if my nephew says no to a hug and just saying, “Okay!” instead.
So teach your kids consent. Teach yourself consent. Teach it now. Make it a normal part of your everyday lives. Trust me, you’ll thank me when they’re teenagers and it’s one less “talk” you need to have.