Teaching Children Body Autonomy And Consent

It's a common fallacy that concepts like permission and physical autonomy belong in the same category as sex education in schools.

Author: Lauren Frensham

The importance of setting boundaries should be taught to children as early as possible since they relate to so much more than simply sex or romantic relationships. You’d be surprised to know that you can begin building these boundaries even with babies.

It is crucial to teach your children about healthy physical limits as it will help them establish their sense of identity, level of confidence, and expectations of what is appropriate and inappropriate contact while also teaching them how to respect other people’s bodies.

If you don’t know where to begin, here are some practical ways to start:

  1. Teach them the importance of “no.” Teach your child that they can say, ‘No!’ if they don’t want someone to kiss or hug them.  Provided them with alternatives to engage with, such as high-fiving, waving, or shaking someone’s hand. 
  1. Establish the correct terminology. Kids need to know the correct terms for each bodily component so you can teach them where it’s okay to be touched and where it isn’t. Using childish words for body parts can send the message that it’s shameful to talk about them. Children who are taught not to discuss their bodies may be less likely to come forward if they are being sexually abused.
  1. Safe versus unsafe touch. You should educate your children about various types of touching. Like pats on the back or desired embraces, safe touches have a comforting feeling. On the contrary, your body or emotions are wounded by unsafe contact, such as pushing or slapping. Unsafe touches are when someone touches parts of a body that are under a swimsuit and also include someone’s mouth.  Teach your child that no one can touch these parts, and we cannot touch these parts on other people too. If any of these things happen, teach your child to tell a trusted adult.

If your child reports being touched inappropriately, don’t panic. Instead, implement the following:

  1. Believe them. When your child confides in you, never break their trust. Speaking about the abuse takes a lot of strength, and children seldom lie about such things. Dismissing their claim right away will make it difficult to trust you again in the future.
  1. Be reassuring. Don’t make your child feel like they’ve done something wrong or that you love them less now. Reassure them that you will go to great lengths to keep them safe and appreciate their coming to you.
  1. Reach out to professional services. It can be overwhelming to hear of a child being touched inappropriately so please reach out to professional services such as the Police or a Psychologist to find out more information about how to proceed and gain support.

Better Self Psychology specialises in helping children, teenagers, and young adults.

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