From a very young age, children are seeking and craving autonomy. Different ages push boundaries more than others, but the end goal is children wanting to be their own person and develop a sense of self. One crucial job of parents or caregivers is to teach children about their bodies, particularly regarding consent.
Every family has different ways of approaching “the talk” (or some even avoid it due to not being sure where to even start.) It’s understandable that talking about growing bodies and their needs can feel uncomfortable, but it is imperative that a child understand how to respect their bodies and how to say no.
Consent regarding a child’s body is crucial to not just their physical safety but also helps with assertiveness skills and learning how to hold appropriate boundaries. As awkward as talking about our bodies may be, it can be helpful to build the parent-child bond
and it will hopefully increase your child’s understanding that they can come talk to you a
bout sex, sexuality, and their growing bodies as they mature and face situations in the future. It is truly never too early to teach your child consent and about their bodies. Kids as young as preschool can be taught age appropriate awareness of themselves and others.
At a young age, teaching children the appropriate names for body parts will set them up for safety and consensual understanding of others. Unfortunately, if there ever was a time that your child was being touched or spoken to inappropriately, it is best when a child can articulate “someone touched me on my vagina”. If we label their parts silly or goofy names, it won’t seem as urgent if a child says my friend touched my cookie. It is also important that children know not to touch others' private parts as well. This applies to non sexual touch; kids can say no to hugs, tickles or cuddles- they should know they can even say no to family members including mom and dad.
As they get older, children will need to be taught what to do if someone is attempting to touch them without their consent. Teaching them to shout ‘NO’ and get to a safe adult is a basic but very valuable skill. Most predators who attempt to harm your child will use the word “secret” as a means to manipulate- so keep that word out of the house and use the word surprise instead! The birthday party for mom will be a surprise because she will find out eventually.
Once your child is a teen all of the groundwork you have done since they were young will hopefully lead to a relationship where they share more with you in regards to feeling pressured into any physical touch that they don’t want to do. Keeping the lines of communication open and without judgment or punishment will set your child up for more successful teenage years - and most definitely for healthier romantic relationships as adults.
Most importantly, remember that you are your child’s first teacher and giver of knowledge. You may not know what to say at every question or situation. When in doubt, approach their questions with curiosity and avoid judgment. The relationship you have with your child at whatever age they are can greatly improve if the parent or caregiver can practice patience and understanding.
Being a parent is not easy - if you are struggling with how to go about difficult conversations or experiencing parenting stressors, reach out to Graceful therapy for an appointment.