Definitions of consent emphasise giving permission for something to happen – empowering children to understand their own rights in relation to their body and things that concern them personally.
The idea of consent for young children is often misrepresented, like the idea of asking babies and toddlers if it’s okay to change their nappy – of course this is ridiculous. However, talking to the baby or toddler about what is about to happen, such as by saying, ‘we need to change your nappy, let’s go’, rather than swooping down on the unsuspecting baby and whisking them off without warning, is not as much about gaining consent but instead respectfully and age-appropriately conveying to the child that they deserve to understand why someone needs to interact with their body. Adults have a duty of care for children’s physical needs as well as their emotional needs.
Similarly, we are more mindful these days around the digital space, for example by asking children and adults it if is okay to take their photo. Some children and adults are happy to be in front of the camera or for their photos to be share, while others are not as comfortable. Many young children already have a digital footprint that has been created for them – often without their consent.
We talk with children about personal boundaries and ‘space bubbles’, and the right to say no if someone enters their space bubble wanting to hug, kiss or touch them. There are other ways to connect, like high fives, shaking hands, a fist bump, or even blowing a kiss among some.
The first session of the body safe program last week worked with the kindergarten children to teach and support them to find different ways to say ‘no, I don’t like …’, or ‘stop’, using both verbal and non-verbal communication. The children got to practice this and develop their confidence. They also discussed safe and unsafe touch and the right to say no and explored the different instincts associated with ‘feeling safe’ and ‘feeling unsafe’, and other ways you might notice these feelings in your body.
These days, it is more appropriate to talk about ‘surprises’ rather than ‘secrets’ – secrets are never okay, and children must never be asked to keep a secret. Developing a safety network is important, having five people (you can count them on one hand) that they can trust, that will believe them if they are worried, unsure or scared.
It is also important that children understand about private parts and have the correct names, such as those a doctor or nurse or dentist would use – private parts of their bodies are under a pair of bathers and it also includes their mouth. There are lots of great resources from Body Safe Australia that you can read to continue the education at home in an age-appropriate way. Working with the children prior to school age is the best way we can empower them with the skills they need, and it is important to support children’s development and understanding of their emotions and being able to read other people’s emotions as we continue to develop children emotional vocabulary beyond, happy, sad and angry.
‘My body is my body, and it belongs to me’ (Body Safe Australia)
Director of ELC Kew