Let’s talk about Consent!

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The consent topic seems to be everywhere right now.

It’s a concept everyone needs to understand. It applies to situations that occur every day to everyone.

Last year, Australia’s education ministers unanimously agreed to mandate consent education in schools.

It means all Australian schools are now required to teach age-appropriate consent education – which includes coercion, gendered stereotypes and power imbalances – from Prep to Year 10.

Currently, one in five women in Australia has experienced some form of sexual violence, with one in four of these being under 18 at the time. Evidence shows preventive education, including information on consent, is a powerful tool in reducing sexual assault.

But how do you introduce the concept of consent to very young children and primary school age children?

Whilst it might seem like a topic that can wait until kids are older, you can help children learn about consent, long before the topic is related to sex.

Introducing ideas about consent or toddlers and pre-schoolers

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Australian parenting website, raisingchildren.net.au (which is funded by the Australian Government Department of Social Services) lists these simple everyday ways to introduce the concept of consent to young children:

  1. Firstly, respect your child’s choices about physical contact. For example, if your child would rather not kiss, cuddle or sit on someone’s knee, let them know this is okay. You could say, ‘Max, it’s okay if you don’t want to kiss Aunty Julie. Do you want to give her a high-five instead?’
  2. Teach your child about respecting other people’s boundaries. For example, your child might want to hug a friend who’s sad, but the friend says no. You could say, ‘Brianna says no thanks to hugs today. If people say no, you need to listen.’
  3. Help your child identify non-verbal consent cues. For example, your child might be play-wrestling with another child, but you can see the other child isn’t enjoying it. You could say something like, ‘Eli, it’s only fun if you’re both enjoying it. Jack looks unhappy so it’s time to stop.’
  4. Seek consent from your child. This is particularly important when sharing images of them on social media. As much as we are proud of our children’s milestones, it’s important to ask them whether it’s okay for you to share images of them on social media and if they say no, or they’d prefer you to share a different image, respect their choice.
  5. Set a good example for your child by being clear about your own personal boundaries. For example, if you need privacy while you go to the toilet, explain this to your child and ask them to wait outside.
  6. Let your child know about ‘good reasons’ for touching. For example, ‘A doctor or nurse might ask to see your body. That’s a good reason, but only if I’m there too.’ Or ‘I’m putting sunscreen on you now to stop your body from getting sunburned.’

Consent for school-age children and pre-teens

As children get older, common social situations can provide opportunities to reinforce consent, respect and personal boundaries. These suggestions from raisingchildren.net.au show how easy it is to introduce an age-appropriate awareness of consent issues.

  1. Children often become conscious of their bodies and privacy in the primary school years. Respect your child’s feelings if they want privacy when they’re undressing or using the bathroom.
  2. Social invitations can be an opportunity to discuss consent. For example, if your child doesn’t want to go to a birthday party, playdate or sleepover, this can be a chance for your child to politely practise saying no. You might say: ‘It’s okay not to sleep over at Flynn’s place. Why don’t we suggest a 9 pm pick-up instead?’ or ‘Perhaps you’d like to have a one-on-one catch up with Ivy instead of going to the birthday party.’
  3. When the physical changes of puberty start for your child, avoid making comments about your child’s body. You might also need to ask relatives and friends not to comment.
  4. If your child gets a social media account, talk with them about sharing images. If your child wants to share images of other people, they always need to ask first. Likewise, your child can expect other people to ask for permission before sharing their image. And your child should feel free to say no.
  5. Talk about your child’s friends and friendships. You could ask your child about the qualities they value in friends and the signs that friends care for and respect them. This can be a way to introduce the idea of respectful relationships.

Having small talks with your child at various stages of the parenting journey is a good way to break down a big topic into a smaller more manageable conversation. This helps build confidence, promote assertive behaviour and reinforce the idea that consent forms part of respectful relationships.

Looking for ways to talk to your child about consent? Listen to the podcast with Melissa Kang now.

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