Teaching consent and bodily autonomy by practicing how we can request, give, deny, and change our minds about consent is a very conscious priority in our house.
Teaching consent looks and feels different at various ages, stages, and scenarios- when our babies were itty-bitty we narrated diaper changes and slowly explained how and why we we cleaned all their body parts while identifying them by anatomically correct names. We navigated through what felt like long periods of time when we had to remind ourselves to graciously accept when our hugs and cuddles were rebuffed by toddlers. Now, our very articulate four year old reminds her toddler sister to watch their baby sister’s face for cues to see if she likes the cuddles she is offered and tries to ask via baby sign if she wants ‘more’ or is ‘all done’ periodically during a tickle session.
I was thrilled when I had the opportunity to work with the fine folks at the Union for Reform Judaism to write a piece for their blog that reaches Jews from diverse communities all over the world about a Jewish aspect of the imperative to teach consent at home, synagogue and school.
Teaching Consent to Our Kids: A Lesson in Kavod (Respect)
(this is an excerpt from article published in full here)
As a parent and a Jewish educator, there are a few topics about which I am especially passionate – those where my knowledge as an educator align closely with my experience as a parent raising young children in today’s world. For example, a few that I take very seriously are my job to use car seats safely, to read to my kids every day, and to coach social-emotional skills because I know how much each of those things matter in raising healthy adults.
Our sage Maimonides teaches that the mitzvah (commandment) of shmirat haguf – literally, safeguarding one’s body – is a spiritual imperative. I want my kids’ bodies and their spirits to grow and to thrive. Thus, another lesson that I attend to with great care is the idea that all bodies merit autonomy, and that communication about and consent for how (and if) we touch one another is an integral element of every relationship – starting with our young children. Read more…
I posted this clip on social media a few years ago- and it had many (positive) reactions- and not just ‘shares’- but people actually reached out to discuss and inquire about this interaction.
It did not seem all that remarkable to us- adorable, for sure- but not particularly out of the ordinary.
I learned that teaching consent and practicing it – especially with very young children- is something that just didn’t occur to many of the wonderful, dedicated, progressive parents of even very recent generations.
This is what teaching consent looks like- fun!
Like all toddlers, Talya loves to say “no” even when she really means yes, she is learning about language, power and control. When it comes to cuddles, tickles and affection, the word “no” results in immediately stopping so now she signs for “more” when she wants it, and I’m so grateful I read and learned about this topic as I prepared to parent. It isn’t always this cute…just a few minutes after this, her dada asked for a good night kiss, and she said “no” so he didn’t get one – no cajoling, just accepted her answer. I share because I often see young children touched without consultation, convinced to give physical affection, and disregarded when it comes to their bodies, and it makes me wonder if their loving adults have had the opportunity to consider the messages they are sending.