We all know how important consent is, but how early should we be talking about consent with our kids? Do we wait to talk to our kids about it until we have “the sex talk”? Should we be talking about it when our kids go to school, and they must learn how to share? Or should we be discussing consent even earlier than that? The answer may surprise you. Did you know that we can start talking about consent with our kids when they’re 2-3 years old? By talking about consent early and often, we are teaching our children that consent is important, and as they age, we can introduce age-appropriate situations where consent applies.
You might be thinking “there’s no way that we can talk to our toddlers and young children about consent so that they understand”, but there is! For young children, consent, body autonomy and boundaries go hand in hand. When a child understands that it’s up to them to decide who can touch them (i.e., hug them), they realize that they can say no to situations that may make them uncomfortable (e.g., if they don’t want to hug or kiss Aunt Ida). Empowering children at this age to understand that they don’t have to have physical contact with someone when they don’t want to directly relates to physical intimacy when they’re older. And by our children learning that they can have boundaries and these boundaries are accepted by their parents and relatives, they are learning that when they say “no”, that response should be listened to and honoured.
Another important thing to consider when we’re teaching our kids about consent is that we must also teach them about what to do when someone doesn’t honour their consent. If they say “no” and they are ignored, what should they do and who should they turn to? For example, if someone tries to touch them and they say no or stop and are ignored, should they leave the situation and find a trusted adult? Empowering our children is this easy and so important.