Originally published: November 2022
What is consent?
Consent is giving permission for something to happen, like an agreement to do something. When children learn about and understand consent, it helps them develop better relationships with family, friends, peers, and eventually romantic partners.
Consent is an ongoing conversation. This means teaching your child it is okay to change their mind about agreeing to do something. If someone changes their mind, you need to listen and accept their decision. Good communication skills can help children express their boundaries, speak up when something feels uncomfortable, and listen to the answers they get when asking for consent.
How to teach your child about consent
It is never too early to talk with your child about consent. Teaching your child about their bodies and boundaries is a great way to introduce consent in a way that they can understand.
Here are some tips to help you get started:
- Let your child choose if they want to hug or kiss a family member. This is a great way to teach them that their bodies belong to them and that they have the right to make decisions about what their bodies do.
- Teach your child to be aware of other people’s boundaries. Paying attention to visual cues or body language (such as backing away) can help children learn to respect other people’s boundaries.
- Teach your child to ask for permission before touching others. For example, they should ask their friend if it’s okay to give them a hug or a high-five.
- Give your child language to use to when they don’t want others to touch them. Simple words such as ‘stop’ and ‘no’ tell the other person that they do not consent.
- Help your child understand that ‘no’ means ‘no’. Explain to your child that it is normal to feel sad if someone tells them they don’t want to be touched. Giving people the space they need shows kindness and that we care about them.
- Use every day moments to model asking for consent and accepting the answer. For example, asking your child for permission to hug, cuddle or kiss them or asking if they need a break from tickling are simple ways to model consent.
It’s important for kids to learn about what consent means online too. Help your child understand and navigate consent and decision-making when it comes to video games, tech devices, social media and the like. This can look like choosing who to add as a friend on social media or only participating in conversations online they feel comfortable with.
For tips to help protect your child online go to: ProtectKidsOnline.ca.
Understanding the difference between touch that is 'okay' and 'not okay'
Touch is an important part of how we connect with and share love with others. However, it is important to teach your child the difference between ‘okay touch’ and ‘not okay touch’. Here are some ideas you can use to help your child understand the difference:
- Teach your child that their body belongs to them and no one can look at it or touch it without their permission.
- Teach your child the correct names for their body parts and which ones are private.
- Help your child recognize when touch is not okay by paying attention to how they feel. When kids can trust their feelings and instincts, they will have an easier time recognizing when they are in an unsafe or uncomfortable situation.
Be a trusted adult for your child and help them identify other trusted adults in their lives, like their teachers, coaches, Elders or faith leaders. Let them know that they can share anything with a trusted adult and that there should never be secrets about any kind of touch.
When it's not okay
Children younger than 12 cannot consent to any type of sexual activity. Having sex or participating in sexual activity of any sort with a child younger than 12 is against the law and is sexual abuse. If your child tells you they have been touched, treated, or spoken to in a way that feels uncomfortable, unsafe, or hurtful, it is important to:
- Stay calm and listen. Give them your full attention and tell them you believe them.
- Be compassionate and tell them that it is not their fault. Let them know that they did not deserve what happened to them.
- Know where to get help and find support. There are many support agencies that can help you in this situation. For a list of services that you can reach out to for help, go to the TeachingSexualHealth.ca parent portal: Additional Resources.
Teaching your child about consent helps to protect them while also giving them important skills that can be a fun, positive, and fulfilling part of any relationship, including friendships.
For additional support and resouces related to consent go to: