Teaching your kids about consent must start in the family
Teaching kids about consent

From a very young age children are usually coached about stranger danger. I remember being very firmly told that strangers were bad news and that I should never interact with them. A stranger once parked next to me on a street and asked me for directions. My brother freaked out, grabbed my hand, and dragged me home in terror. That moment is etched in my brain still, as the moment I was almost abducted, despite no real evidence that the stranger meant me harm.

Sadly, one of the bigger dangers to our kids is not strangers. Statistically, your child is more likely to be abused by someone known to them. (helpauckland.org.nz/get-info/statistics) In fact, of the one in three girls (for boys it is one in seven) who may be sexually abused before the age of 16, 90% of those attacks are someone she knows.

Refusing hugs and kisses

Recently a New Zealand charity, Safe Kids Thriving Families shared an article from the Guardian about a child’s right to refuse physical affection and family driven consent education. This has been met with mixed reviews. Some commenters on their Facebook page felt that this went against their educating their children on giving affection and respect for elders. Others felt it was political correctness gone mad, looking to ruin family Christmas gatherings. Some suggested that parenting required the adult to over-ride children’s consent as the adult’s judgement is best.


Now obviously, sometimes we have to tell our children to do or not do things. These are generally for health and safety reasons.Requesting that your child brush their teeth or go to the bathroom is to remind them to self-manage their bodies. Asking them to pick up after themselves is about ensuring they respect their things and yours. However, directing them to hug or kiss another person is largely about social niceness.

What respect looks like

We want our kids to give respect and to show kindness to others. A kiss for uncle, aunty or other family members, are often deemed to be about demonstrating that respect. However, we also don’t want our kids to feel obligated to others even when the requested action makes them uncomfortable. As an adult, you wouldn’t willingly put yourself in an uncomfortable situation and you would expect others to make respectful decisions about your personal space. Why is this considered different for children?

Respect and social niceties can come from other forms. Kind words or a fist pump can be just as affirming and less invasive of personal space. You don’t have to teach a child about physical affection by forcing it. The best way to teach a child about being respectful is to show them what respect looks like. It doesn’t have to come in hugs. It can come in kind words instead.

Your child’s body is their own and they should learn how to be in charge of those decisions now, so they can confidently make decisions later on in life too. From quite young, they can let you know if they are comfortable with hugs or kisses or even tickling. If they aren’t comfortable then they shouldn’t be forced. Children are intuitive and if they are unsure of a person, forced interaction could cause a lot more stress for you and your child.

Of course, it is hard to imagine that people who appear safe and loving, could be capable of inappropriate behaviour with your kids. And this campaign is not really suggesting that every person you know could be capable of that. What the campaign does, is help you frame the message for family so everyone in your family group can show your child what respectful behaviour looks like. Children are very capable of giving that enthusiastic consent that we should all be looking for, every time physical touch is requested.

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This blog was written by Kym Moore. Kym loves to write when she isn't working, hanging out with her two awesome daughters, or spending time with her awesome husband after bedtime.

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Last revised: Monday, 26 December 2016

This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional.