Updated: Jan 4
This article was written by Kayelene Kerr from eSafeKids.
It’s fantastic to see that each year more parents, carers, grandparents and trusted adults in children’s lives are considering children’s body autonomy and having conversations about personal space, body boundaries, consent and respect.
We know that teaching children about body boundaries, both theirs and others, is crucial to a child’s growing sense of self, their confidence and how they should expect to be treated by others.
We know that teaching children about personal space helps them have an understanding of social distance and the different types of touch.
We know a child growing up knowing they have a right to their own personal space, gives that child ownership and choices as to what happens to them and to their body.
We know that if we stop hugging, kissing, tickling and rough housing with kids when they say stop, no matter how much they’re laughing, they learn that they are in charge of their body, that they can say no to anyone and that their body boundaries should be respected no matter where they are or who they’re with.
We know teaching body autonomy is a protective factor against child abuse.
We know all this and then comes Christmas ...
You’re the boss of your body, except when getting a photo with Santa.
You’re the boss of your body, except when seeing friends and family.
You’re the boss of your body, except at Christmas time!
We may hear things like;
“Stop crying, Santa isn’t scary.”
“Smile and you’ll get an ice-cream.”
“If you don’t smile Santa won’t be happy.”
“If you don’t sit on Santa’s lap you won’t get any presents.”
“Sit on Santa’s lap, smile nicely or you’ll end up on the naughty list.”
“Give your grandparents a hug, you haven’t seen them for a long time.”
“If you don’t give ‘insert friend or relative’ a hug or kiss, you’ll hurt their feelings.”
“If you don’t give ‘insert friend or relative’ a hug or kiss, you’ll make them sad.
It doesn’t make sense to teach children body autonomy and body safety and then force them into unwanted contact with someone at Christmas time. When we ignore our children’s wishes in these situations, what are we teaching them about consent?
Blackmail, force, threaten or coerce children to do something they’re not comfortable doing.
Give children mixed messages about body autonomy.
Give children the opportunity to choose;
Whether or not they sit on Santa’s lap (some children might feel more comfortable standing next to Santa)
Who they give physical affection to.
What level of affection they give and for how long.
You can support your child to create safe boundaries and brainstorm ways they can connect with people without feeling uncomfortable or compromising their body autonomy.
Give children permission to use alternatives;
“Would you like to give ‘insert friend or relative’ a hug or a high-five before they leave?”
“I don’t feel like a hug, how about a high-five.
If your child is enthusiastically giving affection to someone else, you can remind them to check-in and ask, “Can I give you a hug?”
Christmas tis the time to;
Give children an opportunity to experience body autonomy.
Respect children’s body boundaries.
Show children they’re in charge of their bodies.
Let children decide what level of affection they give someone.
Teach and model body autonomy, body boundaries, personal space, consent and respect.
“From a young age we can teach children what consent looks like, feels like and sounds like. We can teach children to set boundaries and express those boundaries, if need be assertively. We can also teach children to accept and respect other people’s boundaries.”
- Kayelene Kerr -
A final thought ...
Forcing a child to kiss a relative or sit on Santa’s lap may inadvertently teach your child they’re not in control of their own body. It can blur the boundaries of what is acceptable when it comes to physical contact.
Sometimes friends or relatives might insist on hugging or kissing a child. You may even feel uncomfortable as you watch your child squirm to avoid unwanted physical contact or affection. Forcing children to accept affection from family members or friends may inadvertently teach them some people can always touch them even when they don’t want them to, this can be potentially dangerous and unsafe.
Managing other people’s expectations can be challenging. Some people will understand when you say you’re teaching your child about consent, others will not. As the trusted adults in our children’s lives, we must navigate these tough, but necessary conversations.
Teaching children about body autonomy and consent teaches them to express and accept physical affection in ways that feel good for them and good for others. Starting these lessons early helps children define and assert their boundaries now and for the rest of their lives.
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About The Author
Kayelene Kerr is recognised as one of Western Australia’s most experienced specialist providers of Protective Behaviours, Body Safety, Cyber Safety, Digital Wellness and Pornography education workshops. Kayelene is passionate about the prevention of child abuse and sexual exploitation, drawing on over 24 years’ experience of study and law enforcement, investigating sexual crimes, including technology facilitated crimes. Kayelene delivers engaging and sought after prevention education workshops to educate, equip and empower children and young people, and to help support parents, carers, educators and other professionals. Kayelene believes protecting children from harm is a shared responsibility and everyone can play a role in the care, safety and protection of children. Kayelene aims to inspire the trusted adults in children’s lives to tackle sometimes challenging topics.
eSafeKids strives to reduce and prevent harm through proactive prevention education, supporting and inspiring parents, carers, educators and other professionals to talk with children, young people and vulnerable adults about protective behaviours, body safety, cyber safety, digital wellness and pornography. eSafeKids is based in Perth, Western Australia.
eSafeKids provides books and resources to teach children about social and emotional intelligence, resilience, empathy, gender equality, consent, body safety, protective behaviours, cyber safety, digital wellness, media literacy, puberty and pornography.
eSafeKids books can support educators teaching protective behaviours and child abuse prevention education that aligns with the Western Australian Curriculum, Australian Curriculum, Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and National Quality Framework: National Quality Standards (NQS).