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Importance of consent

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

Introduction

Teaching your child about consent is one of the most important things you can do to help keep them safe. It is also an important building block to empower your child to make their own decisions.

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Consent is when one person agrees or gives permission to another person to do something.

  • One person asks for consent to do something before it happens
  • The other person thinks about what they want to do. They can choose to give their consent. They have a choice to communicate ‘yes’ or ‘no’
  • They can also change their mind later on

Consent isn’t just about consent to sexual activity. Consent is required for non-sexual things such as:

  • touching any part of another person’s body e.g., hugging, kissing on the cheek, high five, shaking hands, during medical procedures
  • touching another person’s private body parts e.g., during personal care, getting dressed, during medical procedures
  • touching somebody’s belongings e.g., mobile phone, pet, toys
  • entering somebody’s private place
  • entering somebody’s home or car
  • doing an activity together e.g., playing a game, going out to a movie

This means that consent is something that children of all ages should be practising. As their understanding of consent develops, they can practise giving consent in more difficult and diverse situations.

At the centre of consent is understanding that my body belongs to me, and respecting that your body belongs to you.

Understanding consent is essential for:

  • good communication and social skills
  • healthy relationships
  • meaningful community participation
  • good decision making
  • minimising vulnerability to exploitation and abuse

Your child does not need to communicate verbally to be able to ask for or give consent. Consent can be asked for or given in any way that your child communicates, including non-verbal communication. It can include things like:

  • nodding ‘yes’ or shaking your head ‘no’
  • using a thumbs up or thumbs down
  • pushing somebody or something away when it isn’t wanted
  • offering something to somebody and waiting for them to take it
  • using a hand gesture to ask somebody to follow, and that person then following

Asking your child for consent to touch them may feel awkward. Making your child ask you for consent before they touch you may feel awkward too.

However, if your child has difficulty giving consent, it is important that they have plenty of opportunity 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.

Strategies for you to try

Create opportunities for your child to practise giving consent

Ask your child for their consent in as many opportunities as possible during their daily routine. Key practice opportunities include:

  • before providing personal care (e.g., showering, toileting, dressing)
  • before giving hugs or other affectionate touch
  • before entering your child’s private space (e.g., bedroom)

After asking your child for consent, wait for their response and respect their choice. This is essential to support your child to understand that their consent has meaning and that other people should respect it. Teachers, health professionals and other family members should also be encouraged to support your child to practise giving consent.

If something needs to happen and seeking consent is not possible (e.g., for safety 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 put the seatbelt on you?’ you could say ‘It’s the law for everyone to wear a seatbelt when they’re in a car. This is to help keep people safe. Do you want to put the seatbelt on yourself, or should I help you?

Create opportunities for your child to practise asking for consent

Being able to ask for consent is equally important as being able to give consent. Both skills are required.

Prompt your child to ask other people for their consent in as many opportunities as possible during their daily routine. Start with prompting them to ask simple questions using their preferred communication style. For example, ‘Can I…?’ Teachers, health professionals and other family members should also be encouraged to prompt your child to ask others for consent.

Key opportunities for practise include:

  • before touching other people e.g., giving hugs to other people, including you
  • before touching other people’s belongings e.g., phone, computer, toys
  • when planning outings or playing games with friends

Model consent

Modelling consent in your daily interactions with other people helps to show your child how they should practise consent. Consider asking other important people in your child’s life to model consent in their interactions with you as well. If your child learns best from repetition, consent needs to be modelled consistently by people around them.

You could also record a video of yourself or your child asking and giving consent in different situations. Your child can then re-watch the video as many times as they need to learn the skill. This is called video modelling, and can be particularly useful for children with autism who may find face-to-face social situations confronting.

trying to make friends, learning about consent

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