How can I help my child understand consent? 

When it comes to consent, you can teach your child at a young age that their body is their body and that nobody is allowed to do anything to them that they don’t like. Children learn how to relate and interact with other people from observing everyone around them and that is especially important when it comes to healthy relationship boundaries. 

Teaching your child what consent means from a young age will help them to understand healthy relationships as a teenager 

2 children playing together with stuffed toys

Let them make their own choices

It’s important to teach your child that their body belongs to them and it’s their choice what they do with it. This will also help them to understand that other people make choices about their own bodies and we all should respect that.

Hugs and kisses

It’s normal for adult relatives to want to give your child a hug or a kiss when they see them, but remember, it’s what your child wants that matters.

  • Instead of telling your child to give their auntie a hug, ask them if they would like to hug them.
  • Give them choices. Ask if they would like to say hello with a hug, blow a kiss, a wave or a high five, or not at all at the moment.
  • Respect their answer. Don’t show if you’re disappointed in their answer or try to persuade them. This can make them feel like they need to do something they don’t want in order to please you. It’s a good idea to explain to friends and family what you’re doing and why so they don’t put any pressure on your child either.
  • Remember their choice might not always be the same. Just because your child had a cuddle with Granny last time they saw her, it doesn’t mean they feel like it today. Or they might choose to give a goodbye hug after they’ve spent time with the person and built a connection.
  • Show them it works both ways. Teach your child to ask friends or family before they give them a hug or kiss and if they say no, that’s ok.

Think about other situations where you could give your child choices before touching them. Could you ask if they want to be picked up or sit on your lap? Or before you get them dressed or wipe their nose ask if they want to do it themselves. You can explain to them that there are times when a trusted adult will need to touch them even if they don’t want them to, like at the doctors or to keep them safe, like strapping them into a car seat or buggy. 

No and stop

Teach your child that they can say no and stop to any touching that they don’t like and that the person touching them needs to stop. You could teach a phrase like “stop, I don’t like it” to use if they don’t like how another child or adult is playing with them.

If they tell you to stop something, show them that you’ve understood. If you’re tickling your child and they say ‘stop’, stop the tickling and say clearly to them “I hear you say stop, so I am going to stop”. This teaches them autonomy and how to keep their body safe.

Teach them to trust their instincts

Explain to your child that there is good and bad touching and if it is bad they might get a bad feeling about it. A bad feeling could make them feel butterflies in their tummy, or sweating, feeling sick or their legs going wobbly. Tell them not to ignore that feeling, and if somebody makes them feel like that, they should tell an adult they feel safe with.

Teach your child we don’t have secrets, just surprises. A surprise could be a party for someone or something they have made for you at school, it’s exciting and eventually everyone knows. A secret is something that makes them feel uncomfortable. Teach your children that if anyone tells them to keep a secret it’s important to tell an adult they feel safe with.

Teach them to talk about their bodies

It’s important to teach children the correct name for their body parts and this includes their genitals. In the past we might have taught children to use ‘cute’ names for their private parts before they learn the real names. Using the anatomical names of penis and vagina helps to keep them safe because: 

  • Having the right language helps children to communicate clearly about their bodies.  
  • Avoiding using certain words can give a sense of shame. If as adults we’re too embarrassed to use the real words, it can give children the idea that these parts are dirty, bad or shameful and that they shouldn’t talk about them.   
  • Cute words can be misleading and can make it easier for an abuser to exploit them. If someone asks a child to touch their ‘fairy’ or ‘winky’ this might sound like a toy to them. 
  • If a child tells a trusted adult that someone touched their ‘flower’ it might be misunderstood or ignored and not acted on. 

Help your child understand that their private parts belong to them and nobody should ask to see or touch them – apart from a doctor with a trusted adult present. Explain that other people’s genitals are private to them too, so if somebody shows them their private parts they must let a trusted adult know. At the same time, its important for them to understand that private does not mean the same as dirty or bad and that they can feel comfortable talking to you about their body parts. The more you can have these conversation with your child, the more natural it will feel for them to share with you. 

Further advice

The NSPCCs PANTS (The Underwear Rule) is a fun and engaging way to explain to young children that their private parts belong to them.  

There are some great children’s books that you can read with your child to help explain consent: 

If your child feels they are unable to talk to any of the safe adults around them, tell them they can call Childline 0800 1111.  

If you are worried you child has experienced child abuse call the police. You can also contact NSPCC 0808 800 5000.  

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