Dear Ate Anna,
A friend told me she allows her daughter to say “no” when her grandmother asks for a kiss. She said she is teaching her daughter about consent. I don’t understand her thinking. Isn’t she teaching her daughter to be rude to her elders? Can you explain this?
Thank you for your question! I understand your concern. Let me talk a bit first about what consent is.
Consent means that each person owns their body and has the right to decide if, when, and who is allowed to touch them. Everyone has a right to consent, including children. It is important for parents and caregivers to educate children about consent.
While it may seem rude to say no to a relative who wants to touch, it is an important lesson for your child to know that they do not have to accept physical touch from any person if they do not want to. Understanding their own rights to say no to touch can keep them safer while they are growing, as they can learn about setting their own boundaries about their body. It also teaches them to respect the bodies of the people around them.
Even if there is cultural pressure to “respect their elders,” you can teach your children that respect is important for everybody in a relationship. Respect means listening to the needs of each person and responding positively to those needs. Every person should feel safe in their interactions with others. Adults should understand that the needs of the children to not be touched are more important than the adult’s desire to physically show their care. If a child is not comfortable being hugged or kissed at this moment, the adult can respond by showing love with words or other actions that do not involve touching.
Children also need to learn that “yes” is allowed to become “no,” once they stop feeling comfortable in an activity. For example, a child may enjoy being tickled, but there may come a point when they have had enough. If the child says “no more,” their needs should be respected by the person tickling. This also teaches them positive boundaries about their body.
Parents can also teach consent by asking for consent themselves. Ask your child’s permission to touch them or come into their personal space. Knock before entering their bedroom. Ask, “Is it OK if I brush your hair?” Privacy and personal boundaries are important for everybody, and the more these are modelled in the household the clearer it will be for your children.
Parents can access resources about consent and other topics on our website at www.serc.mb.ca!
Ate Anna welcomes your questions and comments. Please write to: Ate Anna, Suite 200- 226 Osborne St. N., Winnipeg, MB R3C 1V4 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please visit us at www.serc.mb.ca. You will find reliable information and links for many resources on the subject of sexuality.