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Consent during personal care

Teaching your child about consent is one of the most important things you can do to help keep your child safe.

Introduction

Teaching your child about consent is one of the most important things you can do to help keep your child safe. You can read about why consent is important here. While consent should be practised throughout all aspects of your child’s life, one of the most important areas to practice consent is during personal care.

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Consent is when one person agrees or gives permission to another person to do something. For personal care, consent means:

  • The parent or carer asking their child for consent before assisting them with personal care tasks (showering, toileting, getting dressed)
  • The child thinking about what they want to do. They can choose to give their consent. They have a choice to communicate ‘yes’ or ‘no’
  • The parent or carer waiting until the child responds before starting personal care

Asking your child for consent before giving personal care may feel awkward. It can also be tricky for parents as children may not like personal care tasks or take too long to do it themselves. If something needs to happen and seeking consent is not possible (e.g. for health or hygiene reasons), then ensure that an explanation is given about why that thing needs to happen and consider reframing the situation to give your child options.

For example, instead of ‘Can I wipe your bottom?’ you could say ‘You’ve just done a poo so I need to wipe your bottom so that it’s clean and doesn’t get sore or smelly. Can you pass me some toilet paper please?’

In this way, you are still including your child in the decisions around their personal care. When you involve your child as an active participant in their personal care, you support the development of decision-making skills and body ownership. For other ways to support your child’s decision-making skills, go to Supporting Decision Making.

As your child develops during puberty, personal care tasks will start to include more attention to, and contact with, private body parts. Including consent in personal care helps to teach your child that their body is their own and they have the power to make decisions about it.

If your child has limited capacity to do their personal care tasks, they may continue to require support from family or paid support workers as they grow. This is OK. If this is the case, it is even more important to practice consent throughout personal care so that your child can maintain ownership and control of their body. Practising consent during personal care helps set the expectation for your child that they are an active participant in the support they receive and that people still need to ask permission before touching their private body parts.

Watch Ee-Lin and Grace talk about private body parts below:

If your child has difficulty giving consent, it is important that they have plenty of opportunities to practise with you and other safe people in their life. It is also helpful to teach consent clearly and repeatedly in as many daily situations as possible. Consistency from you and the other important people in your child’s life will help to support your child’s learning.

Anybody who supports your child with personal care, including paid support workers, should be practising consent. Consistency across support people will help reinforce the development of skills for your child and will also set the standard for the type of positive support your child should expect from paid workers.

Conversation Starters

I hear that you don’t want to have a shower right now. Can you tell me why?
Sometimes I need to help you when you have a shower. Can you tell me/show me which parts you want to do yourself?
What do you like/dislike about (personal care task)? What would make this better for you?

Strategies for you to try

Give context

Talk to your child about different personal care tasks and why they are important. Make sure to explain to your child why that task is happening, even if they are non-verbal. The way you explain the task will depend on your child, here is an example below:

“You have been running around outside and are dirty so you need to have a shower, otherwise you’ll be smelly. I’m going to help you have a shower but you will be in charge.  Are you ready?”

Provide choices and build capacity

Supporting your child to make decisions is an important skill to learn early so they can make bigger decisions as they grow up. Some personal care tasks need to happen. That is OK.   You can encourage your child to make decisions and take control of personal care tasks where they can.

You can start by giving your child two or three choices to empower them to have some control over the process.

Some choices to try include:

  • whether they want to shower in the morning or the evening
  • what scent  of body wash they want to use
  • which washcloth they want to use
  • what they get to do after the task (read a book, have some private time, watch TV)

It might take your child a while to build the skills to do personal care tasks properly and you might find that sometimes you run out of time for your child to do it all themselves. This is OK.  Support your child to do the best they can before asking them if it is OK for you to help them finish.

Verbalise your actions

Describe to your child what you’re doing as you complete each step of a personal care task. This helps to involve them in personal care, especially when it’s a task they cannot perform on their own. You can also create a list, social story or picture board with your child to identify the steps involved in some common personal care tasks. This can help them to follow along, anticipate what comes next and understand what is expected and appropriate for certain tasks.

“We’re going to wash your hair now. The first step is to get the shampoo. Can you point to/pass me the shampoo? I’m going to squirt some shampoo into my hand/your hand and then scrub it into your hair to clean it. Now we’re going to rinse the shampoo out. I’m going to pour some water over your head to get the bubbles out, are you ready? Make sure you close your eyes, the soap can make your eyes feel sore”

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