Monday, 22 July 2013

How do you teach a child about consent?

One of my pet issues in the realm of feminism is bodily autonomy. I am a firm believer that an individual must always have autonomy when it comes to their physical self. This expresses itself in my staunch pro-choice beliefs and my feelings about a woman's right to self determination even while pregnant, extending to my belief that pregnant drug users must never be forced into rehab without their consent.
As a parent I am trying to instill bodily autonomy in my children. I want them to understand that it is always ok to say "I don't like it when you touch me like that" and that it is never ok to touch someone who says that,  anything similar to that, or touching someone who is incapable of saying anything.
That said, I sometimes have to say "I know you don't like it when I touch you like this (usually involves saline drops in their noses) but Mommy sometimes had to do things you don't like to keep you healthy and safe." This is often followed by a list of people who are currently allowed to touch them and a reminder that they should always tell a grown up they trust if someone, anyone, including me, touches them in a way that hurts them or makes them sad or angry. This results in them telling Daddy when I've given them medicine they don't like or if I have grabbed their hand too hard when they were trying to run into traffic.
I'm not sure how successful I've been but I will keep trying. I also need to teach them now to last people know to back off.  I have never been good at telling people to back off when they are making me uncomfortable but I want my daughters to have the confidence to speak up when they are uncomfortable or upset.
I will be working against 30 years of conditioning as I teach them to ensure that other people respect their boundaries. I'm sure that I will give them confusing messages frequently but I think that as long as I keep a consistent message in my head I will be able to guide my girls. Maybe while teaching them about consent and boundaries I will learn about maintaining my own.

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