After you talk to your child about the basics of consent and boundaries, it’s important to continue the conversation as they grow. For 2nd and 3rd graders, you can extend beyond the concepts of the body and physical touch and begin to teach consent in more abstract forms.
At this age, you might begin by talking to your child about “permission.” Explain what it means to give someone permission to do something. Ask them questions like, “When can and should you share a secret someone told you?” Here, you should discuss instances where you should have someone’s permission before telling a secret and instances where secrets are unsafe and should be told to a trusted adult.
At this age you should also discuss consent in terms of concrete objects. Try posing the following question to your child: “If you ask to borrow a classmate’s pencil and they do not say anything, what do you do?” If your child states they would take the pencil because the classmate never said no, explain that the absence of a “no” doesn’t always equal a “yes.” The classmate might be very upset to have their pencil taken, even if they didn’t explicitly deny permission to borrow it. Concrete examples such as this help children to understand that they must be explicitly given permission before taking or touching something that does not belong to them.
Discussion about consent can and should go beyond verbal consent and choices. You might start to introduce the concepts of tone and body language, modeling what someone feeling uncomfortable may look like. Ask your child, “If you were playing catch, how would you know someone is ready for you to throw the ball to them?” Explain that people give similar signals in life as they would in playing a ball game to let us know what we do and do not have permission to do.
One really important point to cover with your child is what they should do if they can’t tell what someone wants. Perhaps they cannot read the non-verbal cues of the other person and were never given clear verbal consent; in this case, it is important for your child to know they must ask for consent! Tell them that they should never be afraid to ask, no matter how silly the question might feel. It is always better to be safe than sorry!
Finally, make sure you continue your child’s knowledge of personal boundaries and what they look like. Create frequent opportunities for children to practice voicing their concerns and opinions respectfully, as well as opportunities for them to practice giving and receiving consent.
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.