February 15, 2023 4 min read
As parents, we do everything in our capacity to keep our children safe and healthy. It’s equally important to teach our children about health and safety and raise them as conscious individuals.
Teaching consent and healthy boundaries is an important step in this.
While the concept is broad and needs to be touched upon in an age appropriate manner, it’s never too early to start. Through modelling and play, you can start building the foundation even for your toddler.
Why is teaching consent and boundaries important?
Consent is when someone agrees to do something. Teaching consent and boundaries helps children learn how to respect other people's feelings and bodies.
As parents, teaching consent and healthy boundaries is one of the most important lessons we can teach our children. Not only is it crucial for their physical safety, but it also lays the foundation for positive and healthy relationships in the future.
Teaching consent and healthy boundaries to toddlers may seem daunting, but it can be done through simple language and actions that they understand.
Tips for teaching consent and boundaries to toddlers
Here are a few tips to help your toddler understand consent.
1. Use clear and simple language.
Use clear and simple language to explain that everyone has the right to their own body and that it is not okay for others to touch them without permission.
This can be as simple as saying, "Your body belongs to you, and no one can touch you if you don’t want it." Encourage your child to speak up and say "no" if they don't want to be hugged, kissed, or touched by someone.
It's important to make sure they understand that their "no" will always be respected and that it's okay to set boundaries.
2. Model appropriate behaviour.
Model appropriate boundaries and consent in your own actions and interactions with others. In addition to verbal communication, it's important to model appropriate boundaries and consent in your own actions and interactions with others.
For example, if your child sees you always asking for permission before you change their diapers or undress them for a bath, they will understand that it's normal and expected behaviour. Similarly, if they see you respecting other people's boundaries, they will learn to do the same.
3. Discuss and reinforce body boundaries.
Discuss and reinforce the importance of privacy, and teach your child that their body belongs to them. It’s okay if you feel your toddler is too little to understand.
Talking about it often will eventually drive the point home that no one should touch them except trusted caregivers, and always with their permission.
Make sure your child knows how to ask for help if they feel uncomfortable or unsafe, and always take their concerns seriously.
Whether it's at home or at school, it's important for them to know that they can always come to you if something doesn't feel right.
4. Discuss boundaries and consent for others, too.
While it is important to teach children that they can say “’no” if they are uncomfortable with being touched, they also need to be taught to respect when someone else says “no”.
By teaching this at home, children learn to take cues when someone else is uncomfortable and needs space. They internalise how to respect someone else’s boundaries.
And this further reinforces that it is okay for them to have their own body boundaries, too.
5. Play pretend games.
Play "pretend" games with your child that involve asking for and giving permission, such as asking to play with a toy or asking to be hugged. This allows them to practice setting and respecting boundaries in a safe and fun environment.
Pretend play can also extend to them saying “no” and asking for help when they find themselves in an uncomfortable situation.
6. Encourage your child to speak up if they do not want to be touched or hugged.
Everyone needs their space and the same goes for toddlers, too. If a child is not comfortable being picked up or hugged by someone, it’s important to encourage them to speak up. Even if the person involved is a trusted family member or a friend, it’s important to acknowledge your child’s wishes.
By respecting your child’s wishes, you teach them that only they have autonomy over their body. Children should not be pressured into giving hugs and kisses when they don’t want to.
Teaching consent and healthy boundaries is an ongoing conversation and should be reinforced as your child grows and develops. It's important to remember that children will make mistakes and will need reminders, but as long as you are consistent and clear in your messaging, they will learn to understand and respect boundaries.
Understanding consent is crucial for their safety and well-being. By using clear language, modelling appropriate behaviour, and reinforcing the importance of privacy and personal boundaries, you can help your child develop a strong sense of self and positive relationships.
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