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10 ways to talk to your kids about body safety and consent

5. Explain to your child that everyone has a body boundary.

10 ways to talk to your kids about body safety and consent

With high profile sexual assault allegations and cases dominating the news cycle, women everywhere are making it clear that we have had enough, and that the next generation needs to hear a new message.

It is no longer okay to say that 'boys will be boys, or that accepting sexual, verbal and psychological abuse as part of 'being a woman.' And yet, when we speak out against gender inequality, gender stereotyping and sexual harassment, we are seen as 'troublemakers'; women who cause 'waves.'

Well I say, let's start a tsunami.

Here are 10 ways we can empower our children and educate both our sons and our daughters to be 'that person' who says, “Hey! That's not right!:"

1. From the earliest of years, encourage your child to talk about their feelings.

This way they will learn from a young age how to express, manage and understand their emotions. Allow time for them to tell you exactly how they are feeling, and listen with empathy and intent.

2. Talk about feeling ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe.’

Children find it hard to distinguish between the two. It is important they understand what it is to feel 'unsafe,' so if they are ever feeling this way at any time, they can talk to you or another trusted adult right away.

3. Explain that our body is amazing and when it feels ‘unsafe’ it always lets us know

For example, we might feel sick in the stomach or our heart might beat really fast. Tell your child that these are called their early warning signs. Reiterate that if your child does feel any of their early warning signs, they need to tell a trusted adult straightaway.

4. Help your child choose 3 to 5 trusted adults they can tell anything to, and they would be believed.

These people are part of their safety network. One should not be a family member and all should be easily accessible by your child.

5. Explain to your child that everyone has a body boundary.

This is an invisible space around their body. No one should come inside their body boundary without them saying it's okay (consent).Your child has the right to say 'no' to kisses and hugs if they want to.They can always give a hi-five or blow a kiss instead.

6. Teach your child to respect another person's body boundary also, and that they need to ask for consent before entering it.

That means, for example, if they want to hold another child's hand, they need to ask permission. And if that child says 'no,' they need to respect and accept that child's wishes.

Explain also that just because a person may say 'yes' to hand-holding or a hug, consent can be withdrawn at any time.

7. Have your child practice the empowering 'pirate stance'

That is, hands on hips, legs slightly apart, shoulders thrown back and head held high. This is a very empowering stance and should be practiced regularly. Once in the stance, your child can also practice saying "No" or "Stop! I don't like that!"

Both these phrases are useful in bullying situations and also if anyone does try to touch their private parts. If your child can do this at 4 or 5 years old, then there is a good chance they will be able to do this at 13 or 14, and into adulthood.

8. From day one, call your child's genitals by their correct names.

Ensure your child knows that their private parts (including the mouth) are private. Explain that private means 'just for you.' Tell your child that if anyone touches their private parts, asked them to touch their private parts or shows them pictures of private parts, they need to tell a trusted adult right t away.

They also have the right to say 'No!' or 'Stop' before alerting an adult on their safety network.

9. Encourage your child to stand up for others who may be being bullied or harassed.

They can do this by standing firm in their pirate stance and saying, for example, "Hey! Stop that!" And if the bully continues, encourage your child to tell a trusted adult in their safety network. Your child needs to know they are not a 'tattletale' simply because they stood up for an injustice.

10. Unpack gender stereotyping with your children

For example, point out that there are no boys and girls toys—there are just toys for children. Try to use more gender-neutral language with your child, for example, use 'police officer' rather than 'policeman'.

Focus less on a girl's physical appearance and more on her qualities as a human, that is, she is smart, funny, a maths whizz, etc. And with boys, focus less on their physical prowess and more on their qualities as a human, that is, he is kind, caring and nurturing.

The more we can break down gender stereotyping and gender inequality, the less violence and sexual harassment in our world, particularly against women and members of our LGTBQ communities.

Educating both our sons and our daughters in how to respect one another is not rocket science. But these small and yet powerful ideas can make a massive difference to our society and future generations.

Let's be clear: if anyone becomes a victim of sexual abuse, harassment or trauma, it is NOT their fault.

But as parents, it's time to teach our kids tools to help empower them to prevent this violence, and to help them speak out when bad things happen. Another way is to educate them to respect the choices of all genders, always seek consent, and to understand that in all the 'big ways' there no difference between the sexes. We all have hopes and dreams and we all bleed. Humans are more the same than they are different.

[Originally published on November 30, 2017]

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