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How to Teach Young Children About Boundaries and Consent

As a woman and a mother, the trending #MeToo hashtag is both eye opening and heartbreaking. So many women, so much pain. I am the mother of two young boys, ages 4 and 1, and I am bound and determined to have them grow up respecting themselves, respecting others and understanding boundaries.

After our first son was born, my husband and I made the decision to start teaching him early-on about boundaries, healthy relationships and consent. I know that it might sound strange to introduce these topics to a baby, but our goal has been to instill these life lessons from the very beginning. We didn’t want to wait for a middle school sex-education class to teach this to our boys—we wanted to be active participants in this right from the start.

boundariesSince our boys are still young, we are not sitting down with them and having any type of “talk” per se, but through our actions and interactions with them and each other, we are helping them understand consent and respect of personal boundaries. Below are the methods we use in our home to reiterate these lessons:

Use Words to Explain Actions

Starting as newborns, we decided that any action we did with them or to them was going to be explained. For instance, every time I change our youngest son’s clothes I tell him, “I am going to now take off your shirt” or “I am putting a new shirt on”. Of course, I say it with some inflection and make it sound fun—by the time the sentence is over his clothing is usually on and we go on our way. By doing this we are informing him of what is happening to his body and what kind of touch is acceptable.

Their Body, Their Rules

My oldest son loves a good tickle session where he chases us around and gives us tickles and vice versa. However, we have all experienced that moment where tickling becomes too much and we want it to stop and the other person (many times a sibling) doesn’t stop—it’s not a good feeling. If we are tickling him and he asks us to stop, we stop immediately. No questions asked. It is his body and he gets to make his own rules. This goes for anytime he says “stop” or “no” pertaining to his body, we want him to know that he has control over what happens to him.

This also applies to us as well, if he is hanging on my leg or pulling at my shirt and I want it to stop, I ask him to stop and explain that this is my body and I would like him to stop—and 9 times out of 10 he stops immediately.

Proper Names for Body Parts

An arm is an arm, a leg is a leg and a penis is a penis. There’s no mincing words or making up cute names for body parts in our home. By calling each body part by the correct terminology we are able to clearly understand our son if something is wrong, while also teaching him about his own “private area”.

Washing His Own “Private Area”

Anything under boxers or swim trunks is considered a “private area” in our house. Once our oldest son became old enough to wash himself, we gave him the responsibility of washing his own “private area”. Do we still wash his hair, yes, do we wash his bottom, no (unless he needs assistance and asks for it—especially during potty training). He understands that he is the only person that can touch his “private area” and likewise that he cannot touch anyone else’s “private area”.

Asking for Hugs and Kisses

My mom instinct is to dive right in and give their scrumptious little cheeks a bunch of kisses, however I do stop myself and ask for permission first. Most of the time our preschooler says, “of course”, but other times he just wants his space and I respect that. Our one year old even shakes his head “no” if he isn’t in the mood, and I would be lying if it doesn’t make me a tad bit sad, but it isn’t about me—when he is ready for his hug or kiss he knows right where to find me.

This falls in line with how we approach interactions outside of our immediately family. When we are leaving a family function I have noticed that people often expect our children to just give out hugs and kisses freely, but we leave it up to the kids if they want to do a “hug” or “high five”. Again, it is their body and their rules.

As our children grow older we will expand how we approach these topics and discuss boundaries, consent and respect. However, one thing that won’t change is the fact that they are openly discussed. To educate our sons we need to talk openly and freely about these matters and be open to any questions that may arise.

Every child, every woman and every man deserves respect and should always feel safe and secure.

I would love to hear how you approach these subjects with your own children. Please comment below to share your advice.

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One Response to How to Teach Young Children About Boundaries and Consent

  1. Sharon October 29, 2017 at 11:13 am #

    I am a mom to 5-year-old twin boys, and I do all the things you’ve described. I think respecting their bodily autonomy is so important! I remember as a child being forced to kiss distant relatives I didn’t really know and friends of my grandparents, and I just hated it. We don’t make our sons kiss or hug anyone unless they want to, including us, their parents.

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