I ran a free online 5 day course on social justice parenting last year and I recently rediscovered the pdfs so thought I’d pop them here so they don’t get lost again:
Hi and welcome back to day 3 of Raising Change- Parenting for Social Justice and today’s topic is consent and it’s a heavy one!
So what is consent? At its most basic, teaching children about consent is fundamental safeguarding. It’s about teaching them about their own and others’ bodily autonomy but it is much bigger than just this. It is a way of parenting and even re-parenting that exists outside of the binary of yes and no. I love what Montessori teacher, Corey Jo LLoyd says about it, that it is “a constant conversation not just about who touches who, it’s ultimately about shared power.” I believe that it’s about power, boundaries, trust and safety. It’s a personal and political issue and will take much longer than 10 minutes to unpack here!
How does it show up in our children’s lives? It’s everywhere from kissing and hugging family members- including ourselves- rough and tactile play to even taking photographs without permission and what, when and how they eat. I will say here, that in my family, actions that are directly linked to their right to be healthy and safe such as bathing, toothbrushing and hairwashing are non-negotiables and are explained as such in a child friendly and accessible way.
How does the issue of consent show up in ours and our children’s lives? Well, thinking about our own lack of consent, control and power throughout our own lives can be incredibly painful and this is why there is often a need for reparenting ourselves when we want to be mindful of consent when raising our own children. When we stop to think about the results of a childhood lacking in consent and boundaries, we may be reminded of situations we have found ourselves in as young people and adults when we were and still are unable to advocate for ourselves due to a lack of confidence. I just want you to take a moment to imagine how children feel when they are deprived of these boundaries and control.
First of all, relationships built on consent are relationships built on mutual respect and equality. Explicitly teaching our children about consent is not only safeguarding for them and others but it lays the foundations for healthy and happy relationships in their lives.
So what can we do? There’s LOTS we can do and it starts at birth and HAS to be a constant, ongoing conversation that everyone contributes to. It should encompass mutual boundaries, respect and listening. You can start by teaching your children the correct names for all their body parts- we cannot expect children to have autonomy over their own bodies if they cannot correctly name their genitals- again I cannot stress this enough: it is essential safeguarding that allows your child to speak about their bodies without shame. If this feels uncomfortable for you, sit with that discomfort for a while and explore it. Explain to your baby what you are doing to them and why when changing their nappy, feeding them and changing their clothes. Remove all shame from your home when it comes to your body, your feelings, your dreams and when your children uphold their boundaries, have a script that you follow so that your child internalises it. “You said stop/no and I respect your boundaries.” When they’re eating and want to stop, want more, want more or less of something: “I’m glad you’re listening to what your body tells you.” And as I’ve already said, these boundaries need to be mutual so while it is imperative that you respect your child’s verbal, physical and emotional boundaries, ask them to also respect yours (i.e letting you go to the toilet on your own when you ask).
Like I said, consent is much bigger than the yes/no binary and I mentioned listening. We need to model empathetic and honest communication to our children; listening to others and importantly, listening to themselves and their inner voices. If our children hear us lie, they will learn to lie, not only to others but to themselves and will struggle to honour their own needs and boundaries.
There is so much I would like to talk about around this topic, especially the themes of shame and safety but that is a talk for another day when there is more time.
So, time for today’s challenge around consent. I want you to try asking your child for their consent to change their nappy/pick them up/kiss them/cuddle them/blow their nose- anything. Then think about how it feels and lean into that. What feelings arise from those interactions and how does it feel when your child says no to something and you respect their boundaries. I’d love to hear how you get on with this challenge as when you commit to it, it can be truly transformational in building a trusting and respectful relationship with your child.
I hope you’ve found this video helpful and if you have any questions, leave them in the comments.