CONSENT- BODILY AUTONOMY IN PRESCHOOL
A couple weeks ago, the Girl Scouts of America published a post about consent, emphasizing that children shouldn’t be expected or forced to show physical affection to family members if they don’t want to. You can read it here: https://www.girlscouts.org/en/raising-girls/happy-and-healthy/happy/what-is-consent.html.
This conversation regularly surfaces around the winter holidays, as we come together with friends and family and express our love for one another.
But the conversation is relevant year-round. As anyone who’s ever met a small child knows, being a preschooler means trying to understand the world – and this requires a lot of touching.
This is why we keep chemicals out of reach, why we cover electrical outlets, and why we wash our hands a million times a day. At preschool, we talk about touch all the time. We emphasize using gentle hands when we play with our friends, asking before we give hugs, and not jumping on a teacher’s back without warning. I remember a conversation we had about consent in my and Maestro Camilo’s class:
Teacher: We are powerful preschoolers! We can use our power – with our words and our bodies – to help people, or to hurt people.
4yrold: We don’t hit.
3yrold: But we can give hugs.
Teacher: Exactly! Sometimes we want to use our power to help people, to give them a hug because they’re our friend, but it actually hurts them because they don’t want a hug. Do you know how we can fix this?
4yrold: Use gentle hands?
Teacher: Yes, but we can also ask. We can say, “Can I give you a hug?” or “Do you want a hug?”
Later that day, as we played outside, I watched a kiddo ask a friend if they wanted a hug. The friend said no. The first kid smiled, said, “Okay! Maybe later,” and ran off to play. It was that simple.
There are a lot of things children don’t have control over, and, often, this is in their best interest. As adults, we don’t let them eat whatever they want because we know a diet of candy isn’t good for their bodies. We don’t let them jump off the roof because, as much as they might believe it, we know they can’t fly. And we all know what happens when a kiddo doesn’t have control over their bladder.
But kids do benefit from learning to have control over what happens with and to their bodies. And this is where developmentally appropriate conversations about consent come into play. Talk to your kids about safe and fun ways to interact, and help them think about their bodies’ boundaries. It might hurt an adult’s feelings when a child doesn’t want to give a hug, but – who knows! – maybe they’ll want to give one later.
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