As children start interacting with each other in classrooms and on the playground, it’s important that we teach them about consent and body autonomy…
It’s never too early to start learning about consent.
According to Clinical Psychologist, Jenny Rose, children should be taught about consent and body boundaries “as early as possible.”
Teaching children about consent is about making them aware that they have the option and the power to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to things relating to their body.
The Meriam Webster dictionary defines consent as “to give assent or approval.”
Children need to know that they are “kings of their castle,” and even mom and dad cannot forcefully touch them without their consent. So, home is the first place to learn these lessons, and the child’s parents are their first teachers.
Playful parenting and body autonomy
To do this, parents can initiate games that children will enjoy, and inevitably learn something.
“Tickle and stop” for instance makes kids aware that mom and dad stop when I say so. “Encourage them to use the words no and stop,” Jenny says. It is important, however, to stop when they say you should.
At a stage where children do not recognise that their bodies as separate from their parents, you can use playfulness to educate them.
Drawing your hand next to theirs on paper makes them slowly realise that their bodies are separate entities. Children become increasingly aware of their bodies at around six months. They grow increasingly interested in looking at themselves in the mirror during this stage.
Talking to them when changing their diaper teaches them that you respect their bodies and they become more aware of it. “I am going to put bum cream on your bum now,” are some conversational pointers to use with your baby.
What about school?
When children are not taught about consent at home, they can easily invade the physical space of other children at school.
Unsurprisingly, she’s made a lot of friends at her new school. Boys included. She’s a confident kid. The first friend she made was a boy. Recently she’s been coming home though and complaining about rough play from the boys that doesn’t stop when she says stop 2/
— Vicki Kyriakakis (@VickiKyriakakis) March 18, 2021
Schools must come on board with the correct messaging
Schools can easily “undo” lessons learned at home if the same is not being taught to kids in the classroom. If kids understand body autonomy and their peers do not stop when they say “no” this becomes conflicting for the child. This is where teachers need to weigh in with the right response.
For example, if three-year-old Tshimo knows that others should not touch her bum, and another child does, this creates questions around what mom and dad have been teaching her at home.
Schools need to find age-appropriate ways to teach children how to interact with each other in respectful and non-invasive ways.
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Boys cannot always “be boys” when that means pushing, shoving, and touching anyone they want, anywhere they want.
Lessons on consent do not have to be sexual. Parents can find games to play or even fun videos on body autonomy.
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