By Nathalie Lizé
In this period of denunciations and #me too movement, it is essential to talk about consent.
The Oxford dictionary defines it as
“Permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.”
To teach it the good way, we must take into consideration self-esteem, respect for oneself and others, well-made choices, and openness to discussion.
My intention is for you to understand that by teaching children to respect their limits and their bodies, we are preparing them for respectful relationships. So, by the time they are old enough to live their intimacy with another person, they will be able to choose to say yes but also to say no, in different spheres of their life. I would like to help you accompany them to feel comfortable to signify their disagreements, at risk of displeasing. Also, to accept someone’s refusal with respect and tolerance and to listen to their own limits. These concepts must be taught from early childhood and our éducational role is essential. Changes come with education, specialists agree to say it.
Choose who to Play with
When a child does not want to play with another, do you accept this refusal or do you impose him this playmate? Of course when a group of children play together and reject a child in particular it is different.
On the other hand, in a one-to-one relationship, a child who says he does not want to be in the company of another expresses a choice, a limit or even discomfort. Respecting this request is important. Would you be willing to spend time with someone if you don’t feel like it?
For children, it’s the same. Forcing them to play with a friend is like telling them they have no choice. Of course, we have to make sure that this refusal is done with respect and that it is received properly. Then, your job will be to support the children on both sides to tame this uncomfortable situation. They will probably have fun together later. However, if you observe a systematic rejection involving the same little ones on a regular basis, then it will be Up to you to help them develop affinities, gradually, without imposing anything. They have to learn to be with each other, they are together every day. They can maintain a healthy relationship without being the best of friends.
Respecting their privacy
When we work with preschool kids we sometimes forget the notion of privacy. A child may not be comfortable putting on his swimsuit or changing in front of others. Allow him to do it in a secluded place. The message he will receive then is that he has the right to decide whether to show his body or not, to respect it. These times are perfect occasions to have discussions about intimacy and familiarizing children with the idea of deciding for their body.
If your daycare settings have common washroom spaces, make sure each child stays in their own personal place. They should be alone in their closet and each child must wait for his turn. Also, if your toilet has no doors, some children may feel uncomfortable and fear being watched. I suggest you to let them go when no one is there, so they will feel that their discomfort is being listened to.
Most children happily accept a kiss or a hug from a friend or even an adult they like. However, these marks of affection must be made with consent. Whenever there is discomfort, allow them to express it. Of course, it can be hurtful for an adult or a child to be denied a kiss or a hug. How this refusal is received will make the difference. If children feel openness and respect for their limitations, they will build the ability to clearly say what they want. They will understand that they have the right to decide and that they deserve respect.
Children should be taught to ask permission for any physical contact between them. It is also important to teach them to negotiate with a no with listening and kindness. There are many other ways to show affection besides physical contact. A small puffed kiss, a virtual hug, a smile, a compliment and the most beautiful of all, a felt “I love you”. These are all ways to show your attachment.
The children’s books author Élise Gravel has created a very well-made little comic strip to illustrate consent for children 3 to 12 years old.
Learn to find solutions
When a conflict arises between two children for one reason or another, we encourage them to discuss and find solutions. Developing ability to argue from an early age and resolve disagreements to the satisfaction of everyone involved is also a great learning experience for consent. Being able to tell others that you don’t agree with them and knowing how to say why is also an important basis. Do not hesitate to give positive reinforcement when a child names his needs or limitations. Thus, you teach him to assimilate the notion of integrity.
Support the children
Being surrounded by caring and understanding adults helps children réalising that they have the right to make choices and to respect their own limits, bodies and integrity. Our work as educators is also to accompany children who experience refusal and to teach them to accept it even if it is often disappointing, annoying or hurtful. That way, they will be able to accept no as a response on the day it happens.
Be a model
To consent or refuse any relationship whatsoever, you must first learn to love yourself, learn to listen to the little voice that guides you towards well-being. In order to hear this little voice, adults must allow you, during childhood, to express it loud enough for it to be heard. Let’s encourage children to express their desires, their disagreements, to say yes also when they want to. Let’s teach them that others have the right to tell them no and that their duty is to accept it. Let us lead by example by respecting our limits and accepting those of others. Let’s treat each other with respect as adults. Let’s be kind to each other. Children imitate us, don’t forget to be role models. It’s the best way to support them.
Talk to you soon
Educator and family coach