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How should you educate a child about consent and bodily autonomy?

We need not limit the concepts of consent and boundaries solely to sex.

People ask, "How can a person abuse a child?" I ask, "How can so many good people not do anything about it?"

Approximately 1 in 4 women, 1 in 6 men, and 1 in 2 transgender individuals experience sexual violence at some point in their lifetime. Regrettably, sexual violence is committed by someone they trust 98% of the time. Integrating the concept of bodily autonomy into our daily value system can aid in preventing such violence. Encouraging respect for each other's boundaries, taking turns, and sharing are all aspects of promoting bodily sovereignty. Consent education can begin as early as infancy, such as respecting a baby's desire to stop eating. If parents continue to feed a child even after they reject food, the child may internalize the belief that their opinions and boundaries are unimportant.

Consent is a crucial aspect of healthy relationships and human interactions. It means that each person has the right to make their own decisions about what happens to their body, whether it is inking a tattoo or allowing any form of touch. Asking for consent is essential, especially in intimate situations, to ensure that both parties are comfortable and safe.

We must not limit the concepts of consent and boundaries solely to sex. Often, we avoid or delay having these conversations with children because it makes us uneasy. However, we should teach and model consent and boundaries in all aspects of our lives, including how we interact with others physically. While it may be awkward to discuss these topics in the context of sex alone, it is essential to start early and educate children about bodily autonomy, respect, and consent.

As parents or caregivers, it is important to respect and support children's bodily autonomy. While we may have a natural inclination to make decisions on their behalf, allowing them to have a say in matters that impact their bodies can help them develop a healthy sense of self and confidence.

For instance, when we involve children in the process of bathing and use accurate language to describe body parts, children can develop a better understanding of their bodies while also reducing any feelings of shame or stigma. Empowering children to make decisions about their bodies is crucial, and asking questions such as "Would you like to wash your penis, or would you like me to help you?" gives them a sense of control over their hygiene practices.

Although there may be situations where we need to intervene for safety or hygiene reasons, we can still involve children as much as possible and explain the reasons behind our actions. For instance, if a child refuses to wash their hair, we can explain why it's important and offer them choices in the process. For instance, we can suggest using a cup to rinse their hair instead of a shower, allowing them to participate in the decision-making process.

It can be uncomfortable when your neighbours observe you having a discussion with your children about anatomical terms like "vagina" and "penis" in a public setting. Additionally, it can be challenging when children exercise their independence by expressing their desire to skip school, using phrases like "my body, my choice." However, the long-term benefit of giving children autonomy must be our priority. While it may involve a lot of inconveniences as they are growing up, it will yield results when they have grown up as adults.

Another crucial skill to teach children is how to read facial expressions, to better understand the emotions of others. Additionally, it is important to instill the habit of respecting someone's "No" in their daily life. However, it can be challenging when a child refuses physical affection, such as declining a hug. As parents, we need to focus on raising capable and independent adults rather than dependent children. Therefore, we must explore ways to raise our young boys to become strong and exceptional men and young girls to become great and powerful women.

However, our unconscious biases may influence how we raise our children, which ultimately shapes the adults they become. To summarize, enabling children to have a say in decisions that affect their bodies, when it is appropriate and safe, is crucial for their overall well-being. Using accurate language during bathing and involving them in the process can aid in the development of their self-governance and self-assurance. As caregivers or parents, it is our duty to value and encourages their bodily autonomy while ensuring their safety and health.

About the Author

Rosama Francis

Rosama Francis started her career as a teacher and soon found herself motivated to help students find their potential. She went on to head schools soon after and found all her work centered around finding people's strengths. It was an intuitive understanding that everyone has their unique potential and only by focusing on that, will that individual find success. She soon gravitated towards her career as a coach and still wake up to a life that she loves. Rosama Francis is the co-founder of Innerkern and you can read more about her work here.

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