Family

Teaching Children Body Autonomy and Consent

Something that I feel quite strongly about instilling in my children is an understanding of body autonomy and what consent is; in terms of the latter the understanding that they should give consent, and that they can change their minds but also that they should seek consent from others before acting upon acts of touch etc.

According to this article, “Bodily is defined as the right to self governance over one’s own body without external influence or coercion. It is generally considered to be a fundamental human right.”

The article also states that Consent is an agreement between two or more individuals to partake in a specified activity. Consent does not have to be sexual but it does have to be voluntary, without outside forces or manipulations.

From an early age I have thought it important to “use the language of consent”. This is something that was first modelled to me during the baby massage classes I attended when Aoife was a newborn. We were encouraged to ask our baby if we could touch them before doing the massages. This is great in teaching children to understand that people can’t do whatever they want to them!

Obviously it can feel strange asking a baby, who is non-verbal, for consent but the idea is that you are including them, for example, in the process of changing a nappy. You stating “We are going to change your nappy now”, giving eye contact and showing that you acknowledge. You are including them in the process as opposed to silently manoeuvring them about.

Here are some of the ways I try to instill values of consent and bodily autonomy in my children…

1. Asking permission before showing physical affection. If Aoife or Cassius so no to being given a kiss or a cuddle. Then I respect this. Same goes for family. If Aoife, for example, doesn’t want to give a grandparent a kiss. Then I will respect that choice.

2. Respect the word “no”. If my children say no to doing something, as mentioned above, such as kissing or hugging a family member then this is respected.

3. Making own choices. By this I mean giving the opportunity to decide what clothing they would like to wear, what toys they want to play with, what television programme they want to watch and so on. As an example, Aoife really shows a dislike in wearing dress and will tell me she prefers to wear t-shirts and leggings. This has enabled a sense of owning her own body!

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