One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped in their lifetime, and one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18.
Everyone wants to believe that it would never happen to their child in their family, but the fact is, abusers do not look like the boogeyman. They don’t wear big trench coats and have long scruffy hair.
They have jobs. They coach soccer. They teach in schools or volunteer at church.
I don’t mean to be melodramatic, but let’s face facts. If something happens, it’s most often not by a shady person hiding in the corner of a park, but by a friendly face that the child and family trust.
So how do we protect our kids? We can’t keep them away from everyone forever.
The Ins and Outs of Teaching Body Autonomy and Consent
Your Body is Your Body
This is a very important concept for kids (and adults) to understand. Your body belongs to you and no one else. Because of this, no one can do anything to or with your body without your permission.
It’s a simple concept, but it can be really difficult to teach in practice.
If your child’s body belongs to them, you can’t touch them without their consent.
Not to make them brush their teeth when they won’t cooperate. Not to force them to give auntie a kiss when they don’t want to. Not for anything.
That’s really difficult as a parent, but it’s vital that we teach our children these principles young.
Their Body is Their Body
As an extension, if your body is your body, it means their body is their body.That means that your child can’t do anything to someone else’s body without their permission.
Again, this seems simple, but make sure you talk to your child about how this will apply in real life.
We don’t push our friends without permission. We don’t tickle our friends without permission. We don’t give hugs without permission.
Their body belongs to them. Period.
Consent Means Permission
This is just something that’s helpful to add in. I tend to use consent when talking about these topics, so it’s helpful to make sure your child knows that these terms mean the same thing.
We Respect Consent Always
Always. Always. Always.
Respecting consent is about more than simply listening to the person. It means that you accept that they’ve made their decision and drop it.
Respecting consent does not mean saying, “oh come on, it’s not that big a deal!” or “but I really want to!” or “but it’s fun!”
Respecting consent simply means saying “okay” and leaving it at that.
No Means Immediate and Respectful No
This is so important to teach our kids as kids, so that it isn’t shocking to them as they grow older.
Someone can say no at any time, and they deserve for their no to be respected immediately. Regardless of other circumstances.
If you and your friend were having a tickle fight and that friend says stop, you immediately stop. If your friend doesn’t want to play tag, you cannot tag them. Even if they wanted to play tag five minutes ago, if they say stop, you immediately stop.
People Should Respect Your Consent
Just like you need to respect other people’s consent, other people should respect your consent as well.
What does that mean?
It means that when Chris is throwing the kids around and being a crazy dad, the second that one of them says stop, he immediately stops.
It means that your child has the ability and confidence to say no or stop to anyone who is doing something to them that makes them feel uncomfortable.
What to Do If They Don’t
It’s really important to explain to your child what to do if someone doesn’t respect their consent. You don’t need to go into scary details and make your child afraid of everyone, simply list out some basic steps that they can take.
- Clearly say “No” or “Stop” (or no thank you/please stop if your kiddo is painfully polite like mine!)
- Say “You do not have permission to…” (touch my body etc)
- Yell loudly “DO NOT TOUCH ME”
- Do whatever you need to to get away.
- Immediately tell Mommy, Daddy, or another grown-up that you trust.
Of course, these steps will vary depending on how you want your child to handle these situations, but make sure they know what they should do.
We Will Always Believe You
This is the part that’s often skipped in these talks, but in my opinion it is one of the most important.
Make clear to your child that you will always believe them. And mean it.
Many kids don’t tell their parents if something happens because they don’t want to be told their a liar. What if it’s a family member who is making them uncomfortable? What if it’s a close friend?
It is so important that our kids know that no matter who it is, we will always believe them and do everything in our power to protect them. It doesn’t matter who it is, even if it’s me. I want my child to be confident and comfortable telling me that something made them uncomfortable and they want it to stop.
Teaching body autonomy and consent seems like a scary task, and many parents want to put it off until their kids are teenagers with “the talk”. Please don’t. You don’t have to have a big long discussion, but please make sure your children know that everyone owns the right to their own body. Always.
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Great post and shared!
Thank you so much, Jayneen!
Good post. At what age do you think is the right time to discuss this?
I start as soon as kids can understand. My son is six and we’ve started using the words with him lately, but I would start the actions as soon as possible. Even my toddler can understand that he doesn’t have to give hugs and kisses. :)
I absolutely love this. Will be sharing with family as well because they don’t understand why I let my kids say No.
This is so important, I wholeheartedly agree with your approach. I admit I do struggle with this myself when it comes to personal care for my youngest. He has toileting issues and simply asking him if he needs to go results in him refusing 99.9% of the time. We have to physically carry him to the toilet and get him to go. I hate it because I feel like I am ignoring his refusal of consent but I have no idea what other option I have other than just letting him soil himself four times a day :/
We have just had an issue come up with our little man who views life through the lens of autism that makes it clear that he understands “his body is his body” but he really doesn’t understand “their body is their body” and we don’t trespass on another persons body. As most body safety resources I have found are trying to teach “Your body is your body” I was hoping you might have suggestions as to books or materials that really explain “their body is their body” 5-6yr old appropriate ways and doesn’t make assumptions about understanding how the other person would feel.
This was such an amazing explanation! Took note of everything for my class of middle schoolers!