Learning about consent and boundaries can be natural, easy, and fun with these four ways to teach kids consent in everyday conversation. Understanding consent and boundaries will help your child stay safe and develop better relationships.
The first and most important step to teaching consent and boundaries is simply to open the conversation.
What Are Consent and Boundaries?
According to Christine Babinec, a licensed and National Board certified counselor who is devoted to working with survivors of trauma and abuse, “consent and boundaries are important words—and even more important actions! Consent means a person has asked and received permission to do or say something and that two or more people are choosing to do something together.” And “boundaries are the guidelines and agreements people utilize” when asking for and giving permission.
Consent is a choice. “Silence is not consent. Persuasion is not consent. A person does not have consent unless and until they hear a freely given and unreserved ‘YES!’”
Christine Babinec’s picture book Want a Hug? is the perfect way to introduce consent and boundaries to your kids.
- Your body belongs to you.
- You get to decide what happens to your body.
- Everyone’s body deserves respect.
- If someone hurts us, it’s okay to talk about it.
- If you don’t like the way someone touches you, you can talk to me or your teacher.
- It’s not your fault if someone tries to do something you don’t like.
- Don’t hold someone’s hand if they say no.
- Telling someone not to touch you is not rude.
The best method for teaching consent is to model asking for permission and to practice asking for your child’s consent. Children will learn from the questions you ask and begin asking the same questions when playing with other kids, sharing toys and food, and interacting with the world. Here are some examples of questions you could ask:
- Can I give you a hug?
- Can I sit beside you while we read this book?
- Do you need a break from tickling, or are tickles still okay with you?
- Can I help you put your jacket on?
- I could tell your guidance counselor that grandma died if that’s okay with you.
Here are some examples of questions your child can ask other children:
- Can I play too?
- Do you want a cookie?
- Can I help?
- Do you want to play with the red car or the blue car?
- Do you want to hold hands when we walk to lunch?
- Can I sit next to you on the bus?
- Can we be friends?
Say Yes or No
The power of consent is in the choice to say yes or no. However, sometimes saying no can be scary to a child, especially if they are confused or if the person asking permission is someone they love or fear. So it’s important to remind kids that they always have the option not to give permission, or even take permission back after they’ve given it.
When asking for consent, you can tell kids they can say no to your request. Or sometimes it might be helpful to offer an alternative. Giving your child another option will help them better understand their own boundaries and gain confidence in setting them.
- It’s okay if you don’t want a goodnight hug.
- Can you hold my hand while crossing the street? Or you could hold onto my pants instead.
- It’s okay if you don’t want to hug anyone when we go to visit your aunt’s family.
- Do you want to hug goodbye today? We could also wave or high five.
- Can I hold your drawing? Or do you want to show it to me instead?
Respect Others’ Boundaries
Learning how to listen to and respect others’ boundaries is key to building healthy relationships. When children learn about consent and boundaries, they will understand that no one has the right to touch their body. And in return, they will know that they do not have the right to touch another person’s body.
However, kids might not understand why their friends are upset when they try to hug or play without consent. When this conflict happens, we can explain how to ask for consent, how to listen for boundaries, and how to apologize:
- Respecting someone’s boundaries shows that you care about them.
- It sounds like your friend didn’t want to sit beside you on the bus today. Sometimes you don’t want to sit beside me and that’s okay. Everybody gets to make choices about what’s comfortable for them.
- You hurt your friend’s feelings when you took their toy. The toy belongs to them and they didn’t tell you that you could have it. You wouldn’t want them to take your toy if you were playing with it. How can you make them feel better?
For more conversation starters about consent and boundaries, check out Christine Babinec’s book Want a Hug?
For more ways to teach consent, check out “Teaching Consent” from safesecurekids.org and “I Ask How to Teach Consent Early” from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
Shaelyn Topolovec earned a BA in editing and publishing from BYU, worked on several online publications, and joined the Familius family. Shae is currently an editor and copywriter who lives in California’s Central Valley.