It might seem intimidating or scary to talk to your child about consent and sexual health; however, having these conversations with your child at a young age takes away stigma surrounding the topic of sex and private parts and creates a person who isn’t embarrassed to communicate with parents, trusted adults, and future partners about these topics. As a result, children are better equipped to report sexual abuse. If they have the vocabulary to talk about it, then it’s easier to report abuse and avoid misinterpretation in the future. The following are tips and suggestions on ways to have this conversation with your young child.
To start, you should explain the concept of consent to your child by defining it as “permission for something to happen.” Using clear words, such as “body,” “personal space,” and “touch,” you should explain to your child that only they can decide who has permission to touch them. Inform them that this is called “bodily autonomy.” Be sure to use proper scientific terminology for body parts (i.e. vagina, anus, penis, testicles) so that your child can easily communicate about any issues they’re having in the future.
Explain to your child that their body is their personal space or “bubble,” and they get to decide who is invited into their bubble, when they are invited in, and how they can be touched. Conversations should be geared around respect and the right to choose. Here, you should also discuss empathy, helping your child to understand their feelings and the feelings of others. The goal is to help your child understand why it’s important to give and receive consent.
Another tip is to allow the space for children to feel all emotions and express them in a healthy, productive manner, including negative emotions. It’s important for them to be able to recognize own emotions and be able to identify these emotions in others; that way, they can easily communicate their boundaries and respect the boundaries of others.
It’s important to also model consent by giving your children choices, ESPECIALLY when it comes to decisions regarding touch and their bodies. Create age appropriate opportunities for kids to exercise their right to choose. For example, you might ask, “Would you rather give grandma a hug goodbye or wave?” or “Would you rather share your truck or your car with your sibling?” Providing these choices gives your child the opportunity to practice exercising their right to choose.
The ultimate goal at this age is for kids to identify what makes them feel comfortable and to be able to state this clearly and understand when others express this. Thus, a kid who does not want to be hugged by another kid should be able to express this sentiment, understand his/her body and his/her choice, and ask for that choice to be respected.
By: Summer McSpirit, Education & Prevention Specialist/Outreach Assistant, and Kayleigh Shaw, Interim Volunteer & Education Coordinator
YWCA Northern New Jersey healingSPACE—the only Sexual Violence Resource Center of its kind in Bergen County—is a safe and welcoming place for survivors of sexual assault/abuse, their families, and friends. Our 24/7 crisis intervention hotline (201-487-2227) provides free and confidential assistance, and trained advocates provide counseling and accompany survivors through medical, legal, or other proceedings associated with sexual violence. Support is available to anyone who has experienced sexual violence, whether it happened hours or years ago. healingSPACE offers support groups, volunteer training, and educational programs for schools and businesses, and sponsors activities to raise community awareness about sexual violence.