Why It’s Never Too Early to Talk About Consent

young talk about consent 1

Reading time: 5 minutes

Suitable for: Families of primary-age children

When is the right time to talk about consent? We often hear the word “consent” used with older children first starting intimate relationships. But consent is about so much more than this.

It’s not something we just need to teach our teenagers. In fact, the earlier you have conversations about consent, the better.

What does consent actually mean?

Think of consent as giving permission for someone to do something. School-aged children can learn to seek permission in all their relationships, with friends, family and other adults. Consent is part of creating trusting and positive relationships.

Seeking permission includes:

  • Asking before hugging a friend or kissing a family member
  • Respecting someone’s choice if they say no
  • Showing children they have ownership over their own bodies

We can talk about consent from a very young age to make it a natural part of everyday conversation. 

You might say:

  • “Let’s ask Tom if he’d like a hug goodbye.”
  • “Why don’t you ask Nan if she’d like a kiss.”
  • “Do you think your brother enjoys tickle fights? Let’s ask him.”

It helps children recognise that some children and adults like being hugged, touched, or kissed, and others don’t. 

Teaching your child to respect choices

Alongside asking permission, encourage your child to respect the choices that people make. So if someone says no to a hug or a kiss, that’s fine and not a big deal. Try using the simple phrase, “no means no.” They can offer an alternative instead, so everyone feels comfortable.

Alternatives to kisses and cuddles:

  • High fives
  • Waving
  • Fist bumps
  • Secret handshakes
  • Smiling

It’s also important for children to realise people can change their minds and that’s okay, too. Just because a friend wanted to hold hands yesterday, doesn’t mean they have to do it today. Someone might say yes to a hug and then change their mind and say they don’t like it.

Talk through these situations with your child and remind them we all change our minds sometimes.

The power of “no” and “stop”

Show your child the words “no” and “stop” are powerful. For example, if you’re having a tickle fight and they say “stop it!” stop immediately. You can say, “When you ask, I will always stop straight away.” 

Ask questions to help your child understand how they feel and have the confidence to speak out when they don’t feel comfortable about something.

Try asking:

  • Are you enjoying this?
  • Do you want me to stop?
  • Tell me if you change your mind.

This teaches them what they should do when a friend asks them to stop or seems uncomfortable.

Teach them to empathise with others

Some children can struggle to understand the impact their actions have on others. Make it clear using simple language.

Try using the phrase, “When you did XXX, your friend felt XXXX” so they see the relationship between their action and how their friend feels.

Mum and child have a pillow fight

You can take things a step further by helping them empathise with the other person. Empathy means thinking about how another person feels by imagining yourself in their shoes. 

You might say: 

  • “I know you wanted to hug Kira, but she found it too tight and didn’t like it. Have you ever been hugged too hard?”
  • “When you hit your brother with the toy sword, it hurt him. You felt like that when you bumped into the fence.” 

Once they imagine themselves in a similar situation, it’s easier for them to respect how the other person feels.

Spotting body language clues

Some children find it hard to say how they feel, but show they’re unhappy through their body language. Children can find it hard to recognise these signs. For example, they might not spot a friend is finding a game too rough, or that Mum doesn’t want a kiss right now.

You can help your child recognise these body language clues by pointing them out to your child. Name the different emotions, so they spot the signs that someone is feeling unhappy, annoyed, or frustrated.

Body consent

Children can learn from a very young age that everyone has rights over their own body. No one should touch their body without permission and there are some parts of their body which are private.

The NSPCC has a brilliant PANTS campaign with a catchy song that’s great for younger children:

Bath time is also an opportunity to practise the idea of consent with younger children. You can ask permission to touch parts of their body to wash them. If they say no, that’s fine – show them how they need to wash and let them get on with it themselves. It shows them you respect their body and the choice they’ve made. 

Talking openly about body parts encourages them to speak to you if they don’t feel comfortable about a situation or a person. Use correct body part names and avoid using any confusing nicknames. 

Being matter-of-fact helps avoid any embarrassment and encourages them to talk with you and ask questions. And it’s okay if you don’t know the answer. You can say, “That’s a brilliant question. I’ll find out the answer and let you know.”

How to talk about consent with your child

The best way to talk about consent is to make it part of your everyday conversation, rather than sitting down for a serious discussion. Talk about what you’ve seen on a TV show, read in a book, or experienced in everyday life.

Stay relaxed and be open to your child asking questions and being curious. You might feel embarrassed or uncomfortable at first, but the more open you are to these conversations, the easier it becomes. 

Further support

There are lots of helpful books about consent that are suitable for younger children. While we like to share helpful resources, we don’t support or encourage any particular book, and encourage you to check before purchasing. 

Useful books about consent:

The NSPCC has a range of resources about keeping children safe, including how to spot signs of child abuse

Next steps

We know it can be hard to have these difficult conversations with your child. Browse our available classes to see our upcoming events. They can help you understand your child’s behaviour and learn practical ways to improve family communication. 

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