As your child grows and changes, it’s important that the conversation surrounding the topics of consent and boundaries grows and changes too. From 4th to 8th grade, the conversation should shift to physical touch, consent, and sex.
You might begin by talking to your child about physical touch. You should explicitly discuss the different types of touch and decide, with your child, with whom and when each type is appropriate. Here, you should also discuss what types of touch are never appropriate for anyone and what to do if he/she is touched in these areas.
At this age, you should also discuss personal boundaries as being self-created, changeable, and needing to be respected. Children should understand that boundaries will change depending on who you are, who you’re with, where you are, and what you’re doing. It’s important to explain that these boundaries can shift overtime and from one situation to the next.
It’s important to also emphasize that we must respect the boundaries of others. Here, you should discuss what happens when we violate someone else’s boundaries, asking your child how that person may feel. You should also discuss how to avoid violating someone’s boundaries. Try posing the following scenario and questions to your child:
Jamie wants to give her classmate a hug. What should she do first? Why should she ask? If her classmate says “no,” should she hug him anyway? What should Jamie do if her classmate says “yes” and then changes his mind? If Jamie asks her classmate for permission during nap time, can she assume the answer is “yes” since he didn’t say “no”? If he says “yes” one day, does that mean she can hug him whenever she wants without asking again? If he says “no,” should she beg, threaten or pressure him to change his mind?
Posing this scenario will help your child understand that consent must be a clear, voluntary, ongoing, and enthusiastic “yes!” It’s important that, at this age, your child understand his/her rights when it comes to giving (and revoking) consent but also the rights of others.
It’s crucial to ensure your child feels safe and comfortable discussing “sex” with you. At this age, children are mature enough to discuss sex and may seek answers elsewhere or shut down regarding this topic altogether if they are not given an appropriate response to their questions. It’s okay to let your child know that you need a minute to collect your thoughts if the conversation takes you by surprise. However, you should address their questions & concerns and create an open dialogue for this conversation. It’s important to keep these conversations informative and end them with positivity and support. This lets your child know that he/she can continue to come to you regarding this topic.
It’s important to make sure that these conversations don’t stop here and continue to grow and expand with your child. Create opportunities for your child to voice his/her concerns and speak openly about consent and sex.
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.