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Photo by Kelli McClintock

The topic of consent is one we often shy away from in a familial setting. The subject may bring about mixed feelings, a sense of uneasiness, or we might just be unsure of what it is.

Often the term is associated with some form of sexual activity, which many families do not openly discuss. However, it is important to recognize that consent is a part of everyday life, and understanding it is a crucial aspect of human development.

Consent, in its most general sense, means to give permission. A common misconception is that consent is strictly for sexual activity when in reality, consent pertains to a wide variety of things. Anything that can or cannot be agreed to, involves consent.

Consent is not always verbal, so it is important to understand it in various forms. If something is unclear, ask for clarification. Consent is fundamentally based on communication so it is important to instill this skill at an early age.

Consent looks like ongoing communication between all parties involved.

In interactions between multiple parties, asking things like, “Is this okay?” and “Are you comfortable with this?” are simple ways to ensure that everybody is safe and in control.

Actions are not consented when there is no clear agreement being made. Not giving an answer does not mean yes. Having to coerce somebody or threaten them into doing what you ask, is not consent.

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Consent is a form of bodily autonomy, which means every individual has the right to govern their own body without external influence. Teaching children that their bodies are theirs and theirs alone, instills a sense of independence and that they are in control.

Creating an environment where this belief is exercised allows children to carry these values later into adulthood. Lacking an understanding of bodily autonomy may create other issues like unhealthy attachment styles of codependency between a parent and child.

Consent is not a one time discussion where the ground rules are laid out and then it presents a free-for-all. Consent is an ongoing conversation which should be discussed at every age.

Here are a few suggestions on how to foster a healthy consent-conscious environment:

1. Start Small

Starting with baby steps is the best way to introduce the conversation. When learning about the human body, ensure your child has the correct vocabulary. Body parts are not dirty words and it is critical to make sure that your child is equipped with the right tools to set them on the path towards exploring their own autonomy.

2. Allow Your Child To Build Their Own Boundaries

Giving a child the space to create their own boundaries is just as important as respecting the boundaries they have built. If today, your child does not want to give a hug to that relative that they are always forced to, respect their decision. By allowing them this control, it teaches them that they are allowed to say no when an uncomfortable situation presents itself.

3. Educate Family Members

Ensuring that family members understand the concept being taught is a great way to continue to create a supportive environment for the child. If your child does not want to kiss a relative, offer the relative to present an alternative. Asking for a high five or a handshake produces a response where the child is more comfortable and feels respected in their decisions.

4. Exercise Asking For Permission

Teach the importance of asking before doing. If your child is playing with a friend, explain that they should ask before going in for a hug. It is a simple concept and easy to grasp at a young age. Just like they would not want somebody to use their crayons without permission, they should get permission before touching others.

5. Progress The Conversation With Age

As they get older, it is important to progress the conversation to include other more explicit topics that are appropriate with their age group. Regardless of how they are raised, they will still be exposed to sex in various forms of media that they consume. Thus, it is necessary to debunk and explain these various issues before they receive misinformation. A great way to engage in this discussion is while watching films together. Instead of fast-forwarding through uncomfortable scenes, create a conversation around it. Ask if the interaction was consented, how consent was established, how things should have gone differently, etc.

Respecting consent is a required element of any healthy relationship. Instilling these beliefs from a young age allows children to develop the tools they will need to foster healthy relationships in the future and create a respectful relationship with themselves.

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