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Consent in relationships

Teaching about consent starts with explicit practise with important people in your child’s life.

Introduction

As your child ages and their social network broadens, the things they need to ask and give consent to may become more complex. It may eventually include consent to sexual activity.

In all instances, the principle of consent is the same: both people have to agree.

In practice, however, knowing if someone gives their consent can sometimes be difficult. This is because it’s not always easy to let people know that you are not happy about something. Sometimes the person you’re with might look like they’re happy doing something, but on the inside they’re not. They might not know what to say, or how to tell you that they are uncomfortable. This can be particularly challenging in your child’s relationships with their peers, especially if their peers are also learning how to ask for and give consent.

Consent is an important part of every healthy relationship. Supporting your child to ask for and give consent in peer relationships and ensuring they know what to do if they are uncomfortable will help your child to become more independent. It will also help to keep them safe.

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Strategies for you to try

Brainstorm with your child the different ways they can ask for consent

Brainstorm with your child the different ways they can ask for consent. This should include questions to ask before doing something and questions to ask during an activity to check if the other person still consents.

For example:

  • ‘I want to… Do you want to join me?’
  • ‘Are you happy if we…?’
  • ‘I thought it would be good if we… What do you think?’
  • ‘Is there anything that you don’t want to do?’
  •  ‘Are you comfortable with what we’re doing?’
  • ‘Do you want to stop?’
  • ‘Do you want to go further?’

Write these down somewhere to remind your child of the questions. You could turn it into a poster.

Practise recognising non-verbal communication

There are many ways of communicating. The look on someone’s face and their body language are also ways of communicating how they feel, and often have more meaning than the words they say.

Brainstorm with your child the different ways that a person’s body language can let you know whether or not they are comfortable with what you are doing together. If your child prefers visuals, they can draw these instead.

Comfortable signs

  • Coming close to you
  • Actively participating in the activity
  • Relaxed body & facial expressions
  • Laughing/ giggling
  • Responding to your questions

Uncomfortable signs

  • Pushing you away
  • Holding their arms tightly around their body
  • Uncomfortable or painful facial expressions
  • Turning away from you or hiding their face
  • Not responding to your questions

Reinforce that if one person feels uncomfortable, the other person should stop.

Create opportunities for your child to practise

Support your child to practise asking for and giving consent in monitored social situations with peers. This might be in small social gatherings with family friends, or at your child’s hobby or social group.

You can focus on the key skills that your child needs to work on. Praise them for things they did well. Repeat key messages for things that still need improvement.  As their skills develop, they can practice in more diverse and difficult situations.

Ensure your child knows where to go for help

Use the worksheet to help your child identify their 3 safe people. Put the completed worksheet on their wall and refer to it in conversations.

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