Last week we went to a family birthday party (five celebrated at once, from the ages of 1 to 70!) and a lot of fun was had. However, it definitely brought to my attention that our daughter has no concept of personal space, boundaries, or consent.
She’s 1 years old. This is normal.
Normal it may be, but consent is something she needs to learn. And now that she’s walking and able to chase down other kids, she needs to learn it fast.
Fortunately, there are some pretty great resources to help us. I encourage everyone to read at least this guide (it’s 4 pages) if you have any children in your life, whether they belong to you, your family, or your friends.
My sister is already really great at respecting my daughter’s limits. Every time she visits, she asks “Can I pick you up?” before touching her. I know that if she ever says “no”, it will be respected.
As adults, we need to be aware that a child’s “no” to hugging, kissing, or being held, is not them casting any aspersions on our character. They’re just not in the mood to be touched, and we should respect that. Offer an alternative, like a high five, a fist bump, a blown kiss, or a simple wave.
Along a similar vein, if the child has agreed to be touched, and then wants to stop, they should be listened to.
This is all common sense, and easy to follow because we’re adults. We understand the reasoning. How do we teach it to children?
Part of teaching consent to kids is modelling it. Showing that they have agency over their own bodies is a big step to understanding that others are also to be respected.
She walked up to the only other person her size and tried to hug them. She kept her balance (and grip) quite well as he tried to wriggle away… I feel like I dropped the ball at this point. I should have taken her aside and explained that he wasn’t interested in being held, just like she didn’t want to be held by the strangers at the party. I might not have gotten through to her, but I should have tried, multiple times if necessary.
Teaching them empathy is another part. Our daughter also pulled the his hair. He cried, understandably. But she doesn’t seem to understand that having hair pulled hurts – she does it to herself all the time, and doesn’t seem bothered by it. She thinks it’s funny when she pulls other people’s hair. I made her apologize to him (I held her while I apologized for her because she is non verbal) and told her not to pull other people’s hair. I don’t think it has sunk in yet. She pulled mine the next morning.
It’s a work in progress. Suggestions are welcome.
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