Whether we like it or not, the holidays are fast approaching. Amidst all the hustle and bustle that it brings, it can also be a time of stress (good and bad). But subjecting our kids to forced affection does not have not be part of the experience.
My years spent working at Sonoma County’s Rape Crisis Center has left me with a certain lens by which I see the world. Now as a parent, that lens takes on a whole new meaning.
Knowing that most individuals do not report assault is beyond frightening. One wish I have for my own daughter is that she develops the tools and skills necessary to speak up should she ever be in a dangerous situation. If I can combat the factors that lead to not reporting, I intend to.
For years now, colleges have implemented rape prevention programs that teach consent, communication, and respecting personal boundaries. But education needs to start much much sooner. By that I mean, it starts with parents and family. Luckily there is a wealth of information out there. Below are some basic principles that can help to prepare you for the holiday season and beyond.
Teaching Consent Starts with You!
One of the first questions I was asked while still in the hospital, recovering from delivery, was if/when we were going to pierce her ears. (It’s common in Mexico for ears to be pierced early. Sometimes even before leaving the hospital.) I’d like to think that it was the roller coaster of emotions that led me to think… maybe we should go ahead and do it now? But it took my partner saying, “It’s her body, she should have a say in it,” for me to snap out of it and pass on that message to my family. (I also thought: “Yay! He has been listening to me all these years.”)
We, parents, need to model consent and respect for personal boundaries towards each other and our children.
Safe Touches Versus Unsafe Touches
I like to use the terms: Safe versus Unsafe Touches. Safe touches keep us safe, healthy, and loved-even if sometimes a safe touch hurts (like treating a diaper rash). Safe touches are never secret. Unsafe touches are the opposite. They don’t keep us safe, are hurtful, and do not respect our boundaries.
It’s also helpful to use language that reflects consent and personal autonomy. Instead of stating, “Come give mama a kiss,” ask the question “Is it okay if mama gives you a kiss?” This goes a long way in making the shift for ourselves.
Use correct terminology.
Use anatomical terms to describe body parts, instead of “cute” names. “Adults should only be touching your vulva to change your diaper or bathe you.” The doctor might give you an ouchie but it’s because she is keeping you safe from getting sick. Make consent-language a norm in your home by educating your child about their own body parts.
No Means No
A great place to start is when you’re playing with your kid, spinning him around or tickling him. When he says, “No more” or “Stop,” stop right away. Even if he is kidding, it’s a good opportunity to tell him, “When someone says stop to touching their body, you always respect that and stop.”
When a child does not want to hug that family member, it’s up to us to support them in that decision. Let family know that you are teaching your kids that they have a say in what type of affection they give and receive. Give options to your kids as they during greetings. For example: “This is your cousin Jake, would you like to say hello with a high-five, hug, or smile?”
Just as we need to teach our kiddos that their body is worthy of being respected, we need to teach them to also respect the bodies of others. If their friends don’t want to hug, we need to help our kids understand that it’s okay for friends to express boundaries.
Add Consent to Your Family Rules:
Make it really clear that these are respected rules in your home by including them in a conspicuous space, using clear language that even little kids can understand. Here are a few to get you started:
No Means No. (And no answer also means no)
Safe Touches Only
Talk About Boundaries and Consent Often
Long gone are the days of “THE birds and bees talk.” Just like we need to constantly remind our kids to clean their room or use please and thank you, we need to remind them about consent and boundaries.
If your kids watch TV or go to the movies, use those as teaching tools. When characters don’t respect each other, talk about it. Ask your kids what the characters could have done differently, what language they could have used to communicate clearly, or what adults they could have gone to for help. Use examples from your day to day life. Highlight when someone is being respectful of another’s body.
Practicing these principles isn’t always easy. I have to catch myself often to ensure that I am preaching what I teach. It’s helpful to have a partners and friends that believe in the importance of consent language, to hold each other accountable.