How to Teach Children About Consent

October 12, 2016

how to teach children about consent

What is consent?

According to the University of Michigan Policy on Sexual Misconduct by Students, consent is defined as, 

“… a clear and unambiguous agreement, expressed in mutually understandable words or actions, to engage in a particular activity. 

Consent can be withdrawn by either party at any point. Consent must be voluntarily given and may not be valid if a person is being subjected to actions or behaviors that elicit emotional or psychological pressure, intimidation, or fear. 

Consent to engage in one sexual activity, or past agreement to engage in a particular sexual activity, cannot be presumed to constitute consent to engage in a different sexual activity or to engage again in a sexual activity. 

Consent cannot be validly given by a person who is incapacitated.
At the heart of consent is the idea that every person has a right to personal sovereignty – the right to not be acted upon by someone else in a sexual manner unless they give that person clear permission.  It is the responsibility of the person initiating the sexual activity to get this permission.”

How do we teach our children about consent?

We all want our children to be safe, to be in healthy relationships, to grow up and be respected when they say no, and to respect others when they say no. So how do we ensure that our children aren’t on the receiving or giving end of violating another person’s personal sovereignty?

  • Ask your child for their consent often. “May I hold your hand?” “Would you like a hug?” If they say no, accept that graciously. Even with my littlest one’s I will say, “may I change your diaper?” If she is excited to get into the bath I will still ask, “can I take your shirt/pants off?”
  • Allow your child to tell you no, always. Here is an article about why we should always allow our children to tell us no. Children don’t miraculously learn to say no once they leave home as an adult. They need a lot of opportunities and practice saying no to whatever situation arises in their childhood that they don’t agree with, even if that no is to a parent.
  • Model how a “yes” can turn into a “no.” Our children are often better teachers at this than we are. Tickling may start out fun and then turn into protest which means to cease immediately. Or one child chasing another and both having fun, then the child being chased decides they don’t like it anymore which is a moment to show that a yes can turn into a no and that we must respect that. Or a child playing rough with a parent and both having fun, but it gets a little too rough so the parent says they don’t like that (or the child says they don’t like that), so everyone becomes more gentle or stops to respect that boundary.
  • Never force affection. Here is a more in-depth look at why we shouldn’t force affection, even with family. I’ve seen it so many times when children are greeted by a family member or friend. A child is coerced or forced or shamed for giving (or not giving) affection to someone. That person (that is an adult) gets their feelings hurt and will push guilt onto a child for not being physically affectionate against their will. I’ve heard, “if you love me, you should give me a hug.” Our children aren’t here to make other people comfortable, to be manipulated, to be guilted or shamed for saying no to physical affection (or saying no to anything, really). They are their own person. They are responsible for their own own autonomy just as we are responsible for our own reactions.
  • Educate them about their bodies. Label body parts correctly. Talk about following hunger cues. Talk about how no one has a right to touch their body if they don’t want it, and that they absolutely can and should say when they don’t want or like something that is happening to them. This can be difficult with non-negotiable things like changing a dirty diaper, brushing teeth, or specific doctor’s appointments, but do these things in a cooperative and compassionate way. For the non-negotiables, we explain why they are necessary for keeping their body safe and healthy. All of these things will help empower our children so that they know how their bodies work and that their voices matter when it comes to their autonomy.

Consent is a learned behavior.

In Carol Black’s brilliant piece she writes:

“…Learning -– like all human relationships –– must be based in the ethical principal of non-interference, in the right of all human beings to make their own choices, as long as they’re not interfering with anybody else.  As Nishnaabeg scholar and author Leanne Betasamosake Simpson tells us, learning –– like all human relationships ––  must be based in the ethical principal of consent, in the right of all human beings to be free of violence and the use of force.  Simpson explains:

If children learn to normalize dominance and non-consent within the context of education, then non-consent becomes a normalized part of the ‘tool kit’ of those who have and wield power… This is unthinkable within Nishnaabeg intelligence.”

So many aspects of a child’s life are doused in non-consent. They often don’t get to choose whether they attend school or not. They have zero choice in what is taught at school. They usually have little say or power in what goes on in their day to day life beyond simple choices of, “what color cup would you like?” or, “What would you like to wear to today (although this option can be eliminated when school uniforms are in effect)?”

It is our job, as parents, to discuss and model consent from the youngest newborn to our almost adult teens. Tell that relative or friend that, “Little Johnnie said he doesn’t want a hug right now. We don’t force affection.” Roughhouse and have fun and sportscast that, “little brother was having fun playing rough, but he is saying no now. So we have to stop being rough with him.” We have to be consistent and constant with reinforcing our child’s words to other people. We are their advocates and are there to ensure that their voice is heard and respected. Non-consent will be modeled frequently outside of the realm of physical affection, so modeling consent is of the utmost importance to teaching our children that their body is their body. They are not an object. They are not a pawn. They are not to be controlled or manipulated.


 What are some ways that you have modeled consent to your children? If you liked this article, please share it with your friends and family. A world that is built around respect for boundaries and the consent of all people, children included, will be a healthier, happier place to live.

How to Survive a Long Road Trip with Kids!

October 3, 2016


road trip camping

Last year we went on a road trip that was over 1500 miles. We had to make the drive in 4 days with a moving truck, a car, 2 adults, a 4 year old, a 1 year old, and a cat. Preparation and flexibility were key. We also added in a few more challenges (since we needed them and all), and decided to camp each night. We had initially planned to drive 6 hours each day if we could, but quickly realized that was not going to be possible. I was alone with my 1 year old in our car and she loathed her car seat. Our max drive time was a total of 4 hours. We couldn’t do those straight through either. Typically, we would wake up, have some breakfast, go for a swim, and then pack up. We would get a good hour of driving in with the help of some of the tips below. Then we would stop, eat some snacks, drink some cold drinks, and run around. After that first hour, things could get a bit hairy. If your kids are older it will probably be a bit less painful, but the one year old just didn’t understand why she was being trapped in her seat foreeeevveerr. She would usually take a nap in there somewhere too and give us a solid hour of peaceful drive time. I shot dagger eyes through the moving truck to my husband if he even hinted of needing to stop and pee during that nap time. Continue Reading…

When Kids Ask The Tough Questions

September 28, 2016

when kids ask the tough questions

I was in 5th grade. I went to the movie theater with my mom. We watched Step Mom with Susan Sarandon. I don’t remember much of the movie except that she died from cancer. I remember leaving the theater in tears. “Mom, are you going to die? I don’t want you to die!”

I was in 6th grade. The news was on in our living room. A constant stream of images of students limping along with the help of their friends, fleeing a school. 2 gunmen had killed themselves after killing 13 innocent children and a teacher. It was Columbine High School. I was terrified. “Could someone shoot us at our school?” I didn’t feel safe. I was frozen with fear.

Continue Reading…

How To Encourage Language And Communication

September 27, 2016


How to encourage language and communication

The ability to communicate effectively is one of the most empowering skills a child will learn.

We all know the passionate and demonstrative frustration a toddler feels as they are learning how to impact the world around them. Many meltdowns occur as a result of our children trying to learn how to communicate their needs and desires. All too often we forget that they are LEARNING to communicate. They are not mini adults. They have not yet learnt how to convey what they want politely. They will say things like, “Go away!”  Which might simply mean that they need some space. Continue Reading…

Let Them Go At Their Own Pace

September 23, 2016

Let Them Go At Their Own Pace

What’s the best approach?…

To let children go at their own pace? 


To encourage, even push, them a little? 

My gut tells me that our kids know best. They are pretty good at knowing what they can handle and when they can handle it. 
So far in our parenting journey we have witnessed two very different responses from our children as they’ve dipped their toes into that ocean of independence. Despite my niggling questions and doubts along the way, in hind sight, it’s safe to say each child knew exactly what they needed and what they were capable of. Each child naturally let go of our hands and chose independence at very different stages to one another.

Scenario 1 

Here’s a quick snap shot of our 6 year old daughter’s personality…
From day one she was intense, high needs, alert and sensitive. Today she is still all those things, as well as compassionate, thoughtful, contemplative and passionate. Her heart is ready to explode with emotion and she often pauses as she “cries happy tears” during a heartfelt moment.

She is one of those kids who will stand back and observe when she is somewhere new. Or she will step aside at the top of the slide and let everyone else go down first. As an adult, everything in me wants to encourage her to be assertive, to take her turn, to NOT let everyone else go first. Surely, in this situation it’s ok to start teaching assertive skills and to encourage her to take her turn at the top of a busy playground slide. Isn’t it? I used to think so. I used to say things like “It’s ok, it’s your turn. You can go while the others wait for their turn.” More recently I don’t do this. This is how she operates. This is how she chooses to approach situations. My trying to push or change her will only serve to plant seeds of doubt in her mind about herself. Instead, I hold my tongue, I wait, I let her go at her pace. She’s building confidence step by step, on her terms. 

It’s no surprise that she has struggled with separation anxiety. She hated aspects of kindergarten. We went from being excited with anticipation and taking those typical Facebook style “first day” photos, to worried and tormented with doubts. Kindergarten was certainly a rocky ride to say the least. We skipped weeks and months at a time. We would stay by her side for entire sessions, 5 hour sessions, for weeks on end. You can imagine our fears about starting school. However, two things played a part in making her time at school happy and stress free. I need to credit her school, which is nurturing, esteem building and beautiful in every way. And our sweet girl. At 5.5 years, she was ready. She was ready to say goodbye to us on that first, nerve filled, uncertain day. A few months later she even announced she was ready to catch the school bus to and from school. My jaw hit the floor. My girl, who had been plagued with extreme separation anxiety for years, was branching out with independence and blossoming. I have no doubt though, that if we had ever pushed too hard or insisted she do kinder when she wasn’t coping, she would not be in the place she is in today. 

Scenario 2

A snapshot of our 3 year old daughter’s personality…

I call her our little firecracker. She is bright and funny, fast and loud. She too has a heart full of passion and love. Instead of a gentle cuddle, she will literally fly into our arms, clacking our heads with hers as she squeezes us tight. She’s never had a problem staying at her grandparent’s while I do some chores. She barely even waves goodbye. At the park she will shout at ten year old boys “I still using it!” Or “I next, it’s my turn.”

So, when her Waldorf playgroup teacher suggested she begin 3 year old kinder classes it made sense. Thus far her kinder journey has been an easy ride, except for my initial humongous failing. On day one, I barely prepared her. She’d always taken everything in her stride without a care in the world, and I absent mindedly assumed this would be the same. She wasn’t prepared though and didn’t seem keen when I explained I was going and would be back soon. The following week I stayed with her. While surprised at her sudden tentativeness, I was prepared to stay for however many weeks she needed me. Then, as we arrived in week 3, she announced she wanted me to go and that “Lucy and Summer can look after me, you go.” When I return these days, she’s hugging other kids, playing happily or sitting on Summer’s lap during story time. 

Pushing children, with the well intentioned notion that they need it, is not, from my experience, the best call. Please don’t get me wrong…there are times our kids don’t want to do things and we know in our hearts that they may love a particular event or activity. In these cases, I navigate this pathway very sensitively with my child, offering support and empathy. For example, our eldest was extremely anxious about starting school. She asked if she could do school at home. She requested that we stay at school with her. We answered questions. We listened. We were empathetic and understanding. We never told her there was “no need to worry and that it would be fine”. We didn’t diminish her feelings or dismiss her fears. But, on day one of school, after staying for a bit, we said goodbye, despite her feeling nervous and uncertain about it all. We knew she was in safe and trusted hands. Admittedly, we were especially fortunate to have worked at her school and a couple of our closest friends would be teaching her. At the start of the day she was teary and anxious. When we collected her she announced she had loved it and felt a little bit confident. 

Our children know what they are capable of. 

They WANT to grow and learn and be independent.

They NEED for us to hold their hands and trust that they will fly when they are ready. 

It’s a precious gift to be exactly what our children need. To provide a place that nurtures and protects. And, all in good time, to provide them with our trust and confidence as they take their first steps towards independence and separation. 

Celebrating Autumn: A New Season is Here

September 22, 2016

autumn leaves celebrating a new season

Autumn arrives today in North America; the Autumnal Equinox. Leaves are changing, temperatures changing, daylight and darkness are changing. So much change happening. I love it! I love the briskness of the air, at least here in the Pacific Northwest, the bright leaves, the mix of rain and Sun, the smell of nature wafting through the atmosphere. 

With these changes, we notice a subtle shift within our household too. Cozy clothes start coming out, our walls and tables start to collect giant yellow leaves and pine cones, and soup is on the menu more often. 

This year we plan to celebrate the start of a new season by going on a nature walk in an area where Autumn is obviously thriving. We might gather and press some colorful leaves. We may splash in puddles and then get cozy in a pile of blankets and read some seasonal stories. 

One thing that I really love about Autumn over all the other seasons is that it feels like a downward shift from the chaos of summer. Everyday was filled with swimming and sweating and getting burned on the playground slides. Now everything seems to zoom in. It zooms in from the constant activity and focuses on the people, the relationships, and the daily rhythm of life. It feels simpler and refreshing.  It feels like a giant cozy blanket just pulled out of the dryer waiting to embrace the whole family after a season full of a lot of running and not as much connecting.  

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower. -Albert Camus

I plan to simplify my own obligations this season; to slow down; to be present; to let go of commitments that don’t bring me joy. My kids’ childhoods are flying by and some days I can see clearly how much I miss at times when I’m preoccupied by other things; things that are, at times, just mindless habits. I will still do things that bring me personal joy, but I’m working on being more productive with my time.

Some fun experiences we want to have this fall are:

  • Getting outside everyday regardless of the weather. 
  • Spend more time in an open-ended environment when outside. For instance, playing around on hiking trails and dried up river beds instead of at a playground (although we will still do that sometimes!).
  • Read about fairies, love, and magic as often as possible. 
  • Make food preparation a bonding time rather than a give-the-kids-the-tablet-so-I-can-cook-faster time, even if that means there is more mess and dawdling. 
  • Create art more. Here are 16 sensory and open-ended Autumn art ideas. Art can seem overwhelming if you are aiming for a specific finished product. I want to allow for more creation of process art; pine cone stamping on paper; painting our bodies; pasting shredded up paper onto pumpkins; creating nature mandalas.

Autumn is a time where all the trees shed their excess (leaves) to make sure their bodies are strong and ready for winter. I love the symbolism for ourselves. A time of releasing what isn’t serving us and focusing on those things that are really close to our heart. 

What are your favorite Autumnal Equinox traditions?

You Know You’re a Sleep Deprived Parent When…

September 21, 2016


you know you're a sleep deprived parent when

The experts, family, and well-meaning strangers often tell soon-to-be parents to “sleep while you can.” What they forget is that it is impossible to sleep while you can when you are hugely pregnant, or better (worse?), when you are hugely pregnant and chasing a toddler or three. Once baby arrives, regardless if it is your first or fifth, sleep evades you, yet totally consumes you without your consent. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture.

Continue Reading…

Why Babywearing is a Lifesaver!

September 19, 2016

babywearing is a lifesaver

When I had my first child, I honestly had no idea that babywearing existed. I’m not sure what rock I lived under, but it’s the truth. I saw my sister attempt a moby wrap once and she was drowning in a 50 foot long piece of fabric. She never figured it out and I definitely did not want to take part in that long strip of frustration. My first kid was also super high needs and I frequently heard myself saying, “I sure wish I had as many arms as an octopus so that I could hold my crying baby and cook food at the same time (although I’ve learned that is a babywearing no-no).” I always chose holding crying baby over food which equaled one very hungry and cranky new mama. When he was a couple months old I discovered some form of crotch-dangling carrier at Target and bought it right away! We used it a couple of times, but it was terribly uncomfortable so I gave up on any pair of artificial limbs. (It should also be noted that I lived in Arkansas when he was born. It isn’t exactly a progressive area and babywearing (and breastfeeding, for that matter) were not the norm, at least not in front of other people.) I was pregnant with my second child while living in Portland, Oregon. Portland was a hub for natural living, breastfeeding, and the definition of progressive. Every mother I knew wore their babies in carriers and wraps.  I had never even heard of a woven wrap until I lived here and joined a local babywearing group. I swore to myself that I would give it 2 full weeks with a woven wrap before giving up. By day 1, I wanted to light the thing on fire. By day 3, I was slowly getting the hang of it. By the end of the first week I couldn’t imagine how I ever took care of an infant without some form of carrier. Continue Reading…

How to Get a Break When You Have No Help

September 16, 2016

how to get a break mom in solitude

Do you ever have those days where you have a toddler pulling on your shirt, a preschooler begging you to feed him his food, put on his shoes, put on his clothes, a sink full of dishes, a to-do list a mile long, and no one to lean on but yourself?

What you desperately want right this very second is just 5 tiny minutes to just be, without having to do anything for yourself or anyone else. You just want quiet. You just want silence. You just want a magically clean house. You just want that to-do list to be finished and off your mind. You just want your kids to entertain themselves for a moment without needing you. You just want a break. So much neeeed. It can feel suffocating sometimes. Then to add salt to your wounds, you realize that the only person that your child has to depend on in that moment is you. You have no back up childcare, you don’t have a partner at home to help, or you don’t have a partner at all. It’s just you and you have to find a way to pull yourself out of the anxiety and desperation screaming from within every particle of your body without taking it out on the innocent little beings that depend on you. No pressure, right?

Continue Reading…

How to Make Your Home a Yes Environment

September 15, 2016

a yes environment

“Don’t pull on those cords!”
“Please stop taking all of the pots and pans out of the cupboard.”
“That vase is glass and will break if it falls off that shelf that is exactly your height.”
“Be careful with all of those framed photos, they are very special.”
“It’s not safe to drink that toilet bowl cleaner, little one. Stay out of this cabinet.” Continue Reading…