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Raising a Confident Kid: Teaching Consent

This article supports caregivers in order to guide them how to talk to their children to make sure they understand consent.

How can the ability to communicate, respect and honesty help achieve the child’s right to say “yes” or “no” when it comes to sharing personal information with others? And how can we develop such capabilities?

The first five years of a child’s life are essential to build his/her character. They can become somewhat independent, decisive and strong, or the complete opposite. Children need to be able to express freely and feel respected. As adults, we do know what is best for our children; however, we tend to overlook the importance to respect their opinion as well. Dialogue is a primary tool that parents can use to explain and convince their children why brushing their teeth is important, or offer them a reward for taking their medication. The child should feel that he/she made the decision to build a strong character; we should only influence or steer that decision to their benefit.

Children who are within this age range tend to be selfish, especially around other kids. They do not like to share their treats or toys or even allow other kids to be around their own parents. They are simply territorial, and that’s our instinct as human beings. What parents should not be doing is forcing their children into sharing at that age. Why? Because it plays a critical role in building their character to be strong and ability to protect themselves. As they grow older, they develop better consciousness and become more aware that sharing and caring for others are good.

How can we explain the importance of respecting the child’s right to consent when it comes to anything related to his/her body and personal space? For example, can we pressure our child to kiss or hug relatives in greetings without making sure whether he/she consents or not?

It is of utmost importance to understand that our children will be around other people (adults or children) while we are not there. They may face negative situations that they do not feel like sharing with us. We should respect their rejection of others yet understand where it comes from. In such situations, we have to make sure that we establish trust and safe relationship with our children in order for them to express their emotions and daily experience with us.

Children learn best by observation and repetition. We can teach our children to say NO to someone they do not approve when trying to grab them from our lap and, of course, we have to respect their decision. We can repeat it a couple of times with the same person to assure our children that they can do so, which is then automatically stored in their subconscious mind for future situations. We could face a situation where our children reject a relative and, here, we can lead by example. We can shake their hands a few times and allow our child to observe for assurance, then they are likely to follow our behavior. Patience is key here as we need to deliver such lessons several times until the children realize it.

How can we explain to our child that he/she must respect his/her friends’ right to accept or reject his/her suggestions or requests that concern their life?

As humans we sometimes think that what is good for us is good for others. However, there is no one size fits all. We can explain to our children by giving them examples of something they like (banana) and another they do not like (apple). Then, we can say that their friend is the other way around (likes apples and does not like bananas). We should explain that people have different preferences and we should respect them. Storytelling is a powerful delivery tool to children. We can make up a hypothetical story to deliver our message. For instance, there was a dictator king who liked apples and ordered his soldiers to remove all bananas from the market. How would the child feel about that? We go on and say that he/she shouldn’t behave like the “bad” dictator king who didn’t respect his soldiers’ preferences.

At what age is a child able to say “yes”, “no” or “stop” and have that respected? Why?

The child should always be able to say ”yes”, “no” or “stop”. From an early age, children are able to convey such message before they can speak. However, it becomes more obvious at the age of two. As mentioned earlier, the first five years of a child’s life are critical to building his character. Therefore, we should be more attentive and respectful to his/her decisions of acceptance or rejection to give his/her space to grow stronger personalities. Nonetheless, there is a fine line between allowing them to build a personality and spoiling them. There should be some rules to be followed in the household/school that are not up for negotiation.

How can we help a child distinguish between safe and unsafe conversations and relations?

Keeping a close relationship with our children is key. In early years, they behave like messengers, always talking about everything they know or have heard or seen. It helps us identify their good versus bad friends, and good versus bad conversations. For instance, if we find our children talking about drugs, then we can explain what drugs are, what their consequences are and why it’s better to stay away from such friends. No matter how much we try to teach our children to avoid our own mistakes, sometimes they only learn by doing them and those are the best teaching moments. In such moments, we should embrace them and explain the outcomes of a bad versus good action or behavior.

How can we have a child trust us to tell us about any problem or unsafe situation he/she may encounter?

Children seek a lot of attention and assurance. As parents, we should make sure to provide them with enough attention, or they will become an easy prey. We should listen to our children not just hear them and nod or make quick comments. We have to engage in their dialogue and listen carefully; only then they will feel comfortable to share with us. In addition, we have to assure them repetitively that they can always come to us when they need help. When they do come asking for help, we should not get angry at them or even at the situation but embrace them immediately. A child would admit a mistake once or twice, but if treated with anger and punishment, then he/she will stop admitting. They would even attempt to resolve the situation, which sometimes causes bigger damage. We should react with calmness in such situations and clarify to our children the outcomes of a good versus bad action or behavior.

As parents, we should ensure the wellbeing of our children. It includes their physical and mental safety. We cannot “protect” our children from everything; therefore, it is important to equip them with the right attitude and mentality. Let’s not be idealists, because children cannot be perfect; we should handle their mistakes the right way. Finally, parenthood is a responsibility with many angles, and there are professionals that can help us be better parents.

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6 minutes

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Raise a confident child that will know how to take the correct and good action, and to take responsibility for his decisions.

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