Toddler Books for Life: Consent

books Jul 7, 2020

Disclaimer: Opinions shared in this post are purely Becky’s, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the rest of the amommaly: team members, both as a publication and on a personal level. The goal and purpose of the amommaly: is to share as many perspectives as possible in a respectful, inclusive, open-minded manner and to provide a safe space to express those perspectives.

Hey everyone, Becky here! This is my first post on the blog! WOW. Thanks for all the support as I have been joining the amommaly: team. I feel the love.

One thing that was very important for me and my spouse as we began the journey into parenthood was reading! From the time my daughter Sal was born, we wanted to read with her and introduce her to the world through books. Not surprisingly, she loves books now! So does her little brother Neal. Some of my favorite moments as a parent are walking into their room and finding them looking at books together, or Sal reciting books from memory to her little brother. Since reading has always been a big constant in their little lives, we use books to introduce new concepts and ideas. So, thus begins my recurring segment: Toddler Books for Life.

Today’s topic is: Consent.

Book: C is for Consent by Eleanor Morrison

Consent may feel like a “grown up” topic but it is not! According to Oxford Languages, consent simply means “to give permission for something to happen.” Kids love to give their opinions on everything under the sun, so of course this topic is right up their alley. When I am discussing consent here, I am specifically referring to affection and physical touch. Obviously kids have to learn to eat their lunches, take baths, and not hit. But teaching them bodily autonomy in reference to how they receive and express affection and touch helps kids feel in control of their lives and bodies. It is empowering. It helps kids feel safe. It helps them feel happy. Children- yes, even toddlers- have a right to control what happens (or doesn’t happen) with their bodies. If they do not want to hug, kiss, be tickled, or be held by someone, then they should not be forced to do so. This applies to family, close friends, and even you, the parent. Does it hurt my feelings when my kids say no to me? Sure, sometimes. As their mama, I want to hug and kiss them because I love them so much! BUT instead, I smile and tell them okay, and move along with my day. I want them to know that no means no. They should not have to beg me to leave them alone. And they should not have to beg me to take their words seriously. Kids, after all, are tiny people with their own feelings and opinions. I do not want my kids to feel pressure to show me, or anyone else, affection. Then, when they consent to a hug or freely give me a kiss, it means so much more when it’s not forced. I do not believe that my children “owe me” affection simply because I am their parent.

Even beyond empowering your children to express themselves, teaching body autonomy to toddlers and children can protect children against predators. If a child believes they have to listen to whatever adults say, even regarding their bodies, it can blur the lines between safe people and unsafe people. It confuses what is and isn’t okay. For example: In an attempt to not seem rude to a family member, you may make your child hug them. It feels harmless at the time. However, in an unsafe scenario, your child may feel the need to not be rude to other adults. I do not like to go there or think about that for my own kids – but we have to be realistic in protecting them, even in scary situations.

With all of that said, sometimes it is HARD to explain to people. And it is hard to stop it from happening, especially with family, without offending someone. So, here are some ways I have personally allowed my children to have input on if they want affection/touch:

  1. “Do you want to give grandma a hug? If you want to, you can, but you do not have to.”
    Giving the options to not be affectionate is important so my child does not comply simply to make me, or grandma, happy.
  2. “You can give a hug, high five, or a wave.”
    This teaches my kids that it is important to greet people, but that they do not have to touch anyone if they do not want to.
  3. If someone begins to hug or kiss my child, I say, “Wait! Let’s ask Sal what she wants. Sal, do you want a kiss? You can say no or yes. It’s whatever you want.”
    It is necessary for me to honor my child’s decision.
  4. Someone says to my child, “Sal, come hug me.”
    I let my child know that she does not have to unless she wants to. If she doesn’t want to, she stays with me to feel safe.
  5. When I or my spouse tickle Sal or Neal and they say stop (even if they’re still laughing), we stop immediately.
    This teaches them the power of their words – no means no. If they want to keep being tickled, they have to request it.

Please let me know your thoughts and input, I would love to hear from our community on what you say or do with your children!

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