Once every couple of days, our youngest daughter will tell us she has a baby in her belly. She says this pretty casually, as though it is the most natural thing in the world to say. She says it with a huge smile on her face and a baby carrier strapped to her chest. Apparently, she’s unaware of how hard it can be to raise kids.
Now, to give some perspective, our youngest daughter is an only recently minted four-year-old. Her sexual reproduction education is limited at this point. She knows that, in our family, her dad has a penis and her mom has a vulva. She understands the idea of the uterus. She knows babies aren’t delivered by the stork, that we used a midwife, and that every birth is different, but she isn’t aware of much more beyond that.
There are parents who think that teaching kids about their own bodies is dangerous. That telling them that they can derive pleasure from their own bodies, and that sex is something many people think about, are not things we should talk about with our kids. There are people who suggest that introducing sexual and health education at a young age is detrimental to the wellbeing of our kids.
“Let them experience childhood!”
“They are just so innocent right now, I don’t want to ruin that for them!”
We are not parents who agree.
We are parents who think education is more important than imaginary concepts of childhood innocence. Our kids are resilient and our kids are smart. Knowing the correct terms for their anatomy doesn’t remove their ability to pick flowers while they play soccer. Helping them understand that their body is different from everyone else’s doesn’t keep them from blowing bubbles. We also think it is incredibly easy to start sex-positive education experience for our kids using situations nearly every parent finds themselves in.
Which brings me again to an important fact: our youngest daughter is only four.
One of the biggest mistakes parents can make is assuming that the idea of consent can only be talked about with kids once they are old enough to have discussions about sex. This is not at all the case. We can empower children from an early age by letting them know that they have the power to say no when it comes to matters of their own bodies, and that we’ll listen to them when they say it.
When You Ask For A Bedtime Kiss And They Say No
It’s as simple a scenario as will ever present itself in your house. You’ve read a bedtime story, you've refilled water bottles eight times, and you’ve turned off the light.
I know how tempting it is to plant a kiss on your child’s forehead. I know how simple it seems. But ask anyway.
“Can I give you a kiss?”
86 times out of 100, the answer will probably be yes. But 14 times it won’t. And accepting that is immensely powerful in letting our kids know they are the rulers of their own body.
It also sets a very positive tone for what consent means in a future sexual relationship: not “no means I can do something simple,” but “no means no.”
When They Don't Want A Goodbye Hug From Family Members
This is a great opportunity to show your kids that you’ll lobby for them and to show family members that.
It’s great to have family members who want to give goodbye kisses when they leave. It’s greater when they ask for permission first, and it’s the greatest when they work with a child to negotiate some other form of saying goodbye if they don’t feel comfortable (or, as kids are known to do, just don’t want to do something) enough for a hug.
Work with them to find a compromise. How about a high five? Or how about yelling goodbye from underneath the blanket they’ve gone to hide under?
When It's Time To Go To The Doctor's Office For Vaccinations
Because I know there are people out there waiting to pounce on situations like this as situations where consent cannot be considered.
“I bet your kids don’t want to get needles when you bring them to get vaccines! So now you either don’t get them vaccinated or you don’t listen when they say no!”
We do get our kids vaccinated, they do say no, and we still listen to them when they tell us that. These are the situations where we earn our World’s Number One parenting mugs.
“Yes, you need to stay healthy. And when you are older, you can make these choices for yourself. But right now you need to get your vaccinations. So let’s talk about ways we can do this.”
Give your kids a chance to express why they do not want to do something. Let them know that their feelings are valid and that you understand them. Explain to them why, in cases of physical health, you have to make decisions as a parent.
You can start these conversations well in advance of appointments to help reduce the likelihood of conflict at the appointment.
All in all, there are opportunities every day to teach our kids lessons in consent. It’s also important to recognize that you can express affection for your children and respect their choices at the same time. Bedtime kisses and tickle fights are a fun part of being a parent. But so is raising a confident child who understands boundaries and knows people will respect them.
Kiss your kids, by all means. But let them decide the frequency.