Thursday, June 9, 2016

Guest Post: Talking to My Five-Year-Old Daughter about Consent

As a companion piece to my previous post, about talking to my son about rape, Snehal Naik has graciously shared her thoughts on teaching her daughter about consent and how to say no to unwanted touch.

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You can't talk to a five year old girl about the ugly things that happen to women and girls. But you can talk to her about consent. She doesn't need to know the word but the concept - believe me even a 5 year old can, and does, get it. I know because when my daughter turned five we started doing something very simple. We ask her permission before making contact with her body.

"Can mommy/ daddy give you a hug?" precedes all hugs. Sometimes she says no and we move on. When others want to hug her, I ask if she wants to, or offer up giving a high five as an alternative. Sometimes she says no to both options. And we move on. Yes it's hard when it's close relatives or friends, and I've endured my share of strange and hurt looks. But I thank those who have demonstrated being hurt by her refusal. Because together we are teaching her an invaluable lesson. That she has the right to withhold consent even if it incites hurt, or anger or emotional pleading.  That we do not reprimand or cajole her into saying yes when she means no. 

Because consent begins now. Not when she's old enough to understand the ugly words in an ugly world. 

Now. As soon as she knows where her body ends and someone else's begins. As soon as she knows that a touch can make you feel uncomfortable if you don't want it.

Now. Because I want it to become second nature, a law of her universe, equivalent to " we don't hit" or "we don't tell lies". Add in there "we ask before we touch and wait for a yes". 

So she'll instinctively know it's wrong when someone doesn't ask. Or asks and doesn't respect a negative answer. Because I don't ever want her to hesitate even for one split second about whether she should say yes when she wants to say no. Because I don't ever want her to wonder if it was wrong on the other person's part to not respect her answer. 

Irrespective of who's asking, how much power they wield over her, how much she doesn't want to upset them, or how much she thinks they love her. I want her to practice saying it to me and her dad- the ultimate power-wielders and love-givers in her life right now. I want her to do it starting right now. So her voice gets louder and louder with practice. 

I would do anything in the world to protect my five year old girl from the ugly things that happen to women and girls. Starting right now- with talking to her about consent.

9 comments:

  1. Hooray! I'm in absolute agreement. This is already happening with my niece, who is two. We ask for hugs, and if she doesn't want to, we respect that. If she doesn't want to hug, she'll usually go for a fist bump or a waive, but it's ok for her to refuse. Kids really do learn about their personal boundaries early on. Learning the lesson that they don't have the ability to say no to an older person when it comes to very personal things can impact them in every aspect of their lives.

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