"No means no": How this teacher explains consent to 3-year-olds in the sweetest way

After reading an article written by Margot Bertelsmann on Parent24 in which she admits she's terrified of letting her child go on camp for the first time and having to teach him about respect for privacy and bodily autonomy, a reader wrote in anonymously explaining the importance of teaching our kids about consent, from a young age.

As a teacher and sexual assault survivor herself, she shares how she works it into day-to-day conversations, believing it shouldn't be one conversation but "a way of doing things that winds its way through every interaction." 

Here's her letter.

"I just read the article about sending your child on their first school camp. What a lovely, honest piece!

So consent is something I am big on teaching. Mostly because I am alive in the 21st Century, but also because I have survived a sexual assault by someone who was a partner and lover at the time.

I am only just about to have my first baby but have done lots around consent as a teacher and the auntie of a troop of children. To me consent is not something you teach in one conversation at a vital age. To me it is a way of doing things that winds its way through every interaction.

When my 3-year-old niece asks if she can play with my phone and I say no she gets upset, naturally. Then I ask her whose phone it is. She points to me. I then ask her who is allowed to decide what happens with it. She again points at me and then moves on.

My husband is the world's most amazing uncle. He often finds himself at the bottom of a pile of tiny humans tickling and wrestling him. The moment he says 'no', 'stop' or begins to look unhappy, I step in. I stop the group and we talk about the fact that we need to stop. Immediately. Because he is the only who who can decide what happens with his body.

We live in a world that is trying to figure its way around the fact that, 'No means no' is no longer enough. So when my 6-year-old nephew tries to play with his 2-year-old brother, I call the little one's expression and demeanour into attention.

'Does he look like he likes this game?' I ask.

'No,' responds the elder of the two.

'So what does that mean?' I ask.

And he already knows.

Sometimes I will add in a discussion that we need to watch their body and expressions, because people won't or can't always say they do not like it or they want us to stop. Most of the time the kids get it already.

There is lots of having to convince my 3-year-old niece of this because she is still so very egocentric (which is perfectly age appropriate). This, I feel, only adds to the lesson. We get to have discussions about coercion and how no-one should try convince you to do something you have said no to, especially when it comes to your body and makes you uncomfortable."

Have you spoken to your child about consent yet? How did you go about this discussion with your child? Tell us by emailing chatback@parent24.com and we may publish your letter. Do let us know if you'd like to remain anonymous.

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