How Do You Explain Consent to Children?

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Educators and parents are now becoming increasingly aware of their responsibility to broach the topic of consent to their students and children. Although the goal of such conversations and lessons is to eventually establish the boundaries of sexual consent, it doesn’t have to start that way. Teaching kids about consent can begin in many ways and do not have to even cover anything sexual.

Learn why educators and, especially, parents should be talking to their young charges about consent and how you can start the conversation with young children. 

Why Teach Young Kids About Consent?

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Learning about consent early on ensures children respect boundaries and each other

Educational experts have argued that it is crucial for parents and teachers to teach consent not just in a single talk but in a continual process throughout their development. This means you should start teaching them about the topic when they are between 2 to 5 years old, during their formative years. You may have some misgivings about approaching such a topic, especially to young kids. 

But here are a few compelling reasons for its importance.

  • It’s About Boundaries

At its core, consent is not just about sexual activity but about boundaries. Children should become familiar with the concept of boundaries even when they are very young. This helps them recognize when their own boundaries are being broken and learn the value of not breaching other people’s boundaries as well. This can help them become empathetic and mindful of other people. 

  • It’s About Respect

Consent is also about respect. Respecting people’s preferences, their decisions and their personal space are all important lessons for children to learn at an early age. Establishing that respect is not just about authority or control but also about empathy and understanding is crucial if you want your child to view other people with kindness. They can also respect themselves and have the self-esteem necessary to be as well-rounded as possible. 

  • It’s About Protection

Finally, teaching the importance of saying no and establishing the importance of respecting personal boundaries can protect them from those who would try to take advantage. Too often children are seen by such people as easy targets because they have not been properly taught about the rules of consent. By teaching all children the importance of respecting consent early on, they can judge situations and identify what’s not OK much sooner. 

Teaching Young Kids Consent

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Teaching consent begins at home, with parents and guardians

According to some educators, consent education should ideally begin during a child’s formative years. As such, much of the onus is on the parents rather than primary school teachers, although they should still be involved. 

Consent education is an ongoing process, one that is not so neatly resolved after a single conversation.

 You must continually bring up the topic during a child’s development, eventually broaching the topic of sexual consent during their teenage years.

For young children, between the ages 2 and 5, use the following tips to inform your conversation about consent. 

  • Build Empathy

You can begin by teaching kids how to empathize with other kids. Tell them how they would feel if another child was mean to them or ignored their requests. Building empathy is crucial in making them think twice about being mean or disrespecting boundaries. 

By establishing that they shouldn’t break other’s boundaries because they would feel bad if it happened to them, you help the child realize the depths of their actions.

  • The Importance of “No”

The word “no” should have power and you should tell children to respect this power. Teach them that “no,” especially when it comes to personal boundaries, is a serious thing. 

By imparting the power of the word “no,” you can make them wary about breaking it and to be careful around people who don’t respect the meaning of the word as well. 

  • Respect Their Boundaries

Begin teaching them to respect boundaries by respecting their own. Ask your kids if they would like to be hugged or if they don’t want to be touched during certain times. This will show them that their consent is important and that not even a parent or a teacher is above their boundaries.

  • Always Ask

Make sure to show young children that it is important to establish consent for all interactions. Before they say good-bye to a friend, tell them that they should ask first if they can hug their friend. 

You should also tell friends and relatives to always ask the child if they would like to hug or kiss with other people. Never force them to do these actions as this will send them mixed messages about boundaries. 

  • Provide Answers

Finally, be prepared to answer their questions about their private parts, social interaction and other things with honesty and clarity. Don’t dance around issues and provide confusing information. 

Be honest and offer them appropriate answers, especially when it comes to their own bodies and with what’s OK or not OK. Providing clear information on topics that intersect with consent is vital in ensuring they are well-armed and well-informed. 

Consent education should be talked about more by parents and educators, even with children at a young age. Doing so can be the key to protecting kids and ensuring they grow up as kind and empathetic adults. 

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