By teaching our kids about consent throughout their lives, we can empower them and protect them as they grow up and go out on their own in the world.
Consent, boundaries, respect, and empathy are important for healthy and happy kids at all stages and ages. It’s easy to introduce these concepts in ways that are appropriate for your kid’s specific development stage – in a way that has nothing to do with sex.
Asking for consent
Monkey see, monkey do.
Children learn and imitate behaviours by watching and listening to others. This is sometimes called “observational learning.”
Because they observe and learn from what you do, modelling consent is one of the most effective ways to teach it.
How can you model consent in daily interactions and moments?
Ask for permission to help wash your child’s body.
Keep it upbeat and always honour the child’s request to not be touched.
“Can I wash your back now? How about your feet? How about your bottom?”
If the child says “no” then hand them the washcloth and say, “Cool! Your booty needs a wash. Go for it.”
Model that asking for consent is an ongoing process
...and that it’s great to take breaks to check in.
When play tickling with your child, take breaks to ask: “Do you need a break from tickling, or are tickles still okay with you?” Then respect the answer they provide.
Ask for consent in everyday interactions with your child.
“Do you want a hug goodbye today? We could also wave or high five.”
“Can I sit beside you while we read this book?”
We want to model asking for consent, and respecting the answer the child or teen provides.
Teens and Tweens also model what they see in the media and movies they watch. Now is a great time to start watching movies together with a critical eye - talk about the relationships you see, are people asking for permission, why or why not, what could the characters have done differently in the scene?
Setting and respecting healthy boundaries
Boundaries are the limits and rules we set for how and when someone touches us. We set our boundaries based on what we are each personally comfortable with. Teach your child to voice and respect their own boundaries and to respect the boundaries of others.
This can be tough sometimes as a parent, it means challenging our own assumptions about what our children “must” do and giving them meaningful, age appropriate choice and agency in their lives.
Exercising the empathy muscle
Empathy is about understanding how others feel even when you don’t feel that way yourself. When it comes to respecting the boundaries and needs of others, empathy plays a key role.
You can help create empathy within your child through interactions and moments that come up in the everyday.
Explain how something they have done may have hurt someone. Use language like, “I know you wanted that toy, but when you hit Mikey, it hurt him and he felt very sad. And we don’t want Mikey to feel sad because we hurt him.”
Teach kids to help others who may be in trouble. Talk to kids about helping other children, and alerting trusted grown-ups when others need help. Use the family pet as an example, “Oh, it looks like the kitty’s tail is stuck! We have to help her!!”
Teach kids to look for opportunities to help and consider the needs of others. Can they pick up the litter? Can they oﬀer to help carry something or hold a door open? All of this teaches kids that they have a role to play in helping ease both proverbial and literal loads.
Ages 12 - up
Support your tweens and teens as they process their changing friendships and relationships. If they have a fight with a friend, encourage them to explore both points of view, and support them to find words to describe how they feel about what happened and what they need.
As your teen begins to enter intimate and romantic relationships, keep the dialogue open about what it means to have a healthy relationship. Explore what that means for them, and guide them through actively exploring their own feelings about different situations.