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Thursday, 28 Feb 2019

Should I start teaching my child about consent?

By Private Therapy Clinic
Teaching Children About Consent

In the era of the “Me too” campaign, many parents have been asking themselves how they can start teaching their children about issues of consent; about how to become empowered to say “yes” or “no” when it comes to what they do with their own bodies and whether or not they allow others to touch them.

Often, parents start to discuss these issues with their kids when they approach puberty. On one level, this seems to make sense, because puberty is when young people start to experience intense feelings of sexual attraction to others and when they gain greater levels of personal freedom.

However, the right time to start teaching children about consent is when they are much, much younger. Think about it. How often are children told that they “must” give granny or another older relative a kiss or a hug, or that they “have to” sit on someone’s knee, even if they are reluctant to do so? Without meaning to, when we make a child engage in physical contact with someone, we are teaching them that they do not actually have the right to determine who does or does not get to touch them. We often think of consent purely in terms of sexual contact, but any physical access to someone should involve ensuring that they have consented to it. When children learn about physical autonomy at an early age, they are better equipped to deal with sexually charged situations later on.

Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with grannies and grandads or other loving adults in the child’s life wanting a kiss or a cuddle—warm physical contact is an important part of bonding and establishing a close relationship and should be encouraged. The issue is that, if the child is wriggling away and doesn’t want to engage in this way, forcing them to do so is giving them the impression that they don’t have the right to say no and can potentially feed into confusion in later life if they find themselves in a tricky or potentially harmful environment.

So, how can parents deal with these situations without causing any undue hurt feelings, while also empowering their child to make his or her own decisions about physical access to their bodies?

First of all, while parents may occasionally have to restrain children for their own safety, as a general rule hugs and squeezes should be offered to rather than imposed on the child. If he or she tries to move away from a physical display of affection, accept their decision and say you’ll be there later on, when they are ready for a cuddle.

When grandparents or other loving members of the child’s family or social circle ask for a hug and the child does not want to engage in that way, you can consider articulating the situation along these lines: “Sammy is not ready for a hug now, but he will come back when he is and Granny can give him a big hug then!” In more formal situations in which children are expected to greet people such as older relatives, you might suggest to your child that they could shake people’s hands if they don’t feel that they want to engage in closer physical contact, while the option of coming back for a hug later on is always available.


For help with the issues discussed in this article speak to one of our therapists here at Private Therapy Clinic for a free initial chat or to make an appointment.

If you would like to learn more about child psychology, you can also visit our child therapy service where we go into more detail around resolving any issues or concerns over your child’s behaviour. 

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