The other day, a parent asked me if it is okay that her 5 year old daughter pinched her butt. I love questions like this because there is so much opportunity to talk about aspects of her child’s sex education that can benefit the parent and the child.
The first thing I asked the parent was if she liked it or not, that is, was she bothered by the pinch or worried about something else. She said it was fine with her, but she wondered what might happen if her daughter did something like this to another person. By asking this question, I was trying to learn about the values of her particular family as well as pinpoint any specific concerns. Since she thought it was funny in context it was then possible to focus more on the main concern – consent.
You might notice that I wasn’t focusing on her worry – that is something every parent experiences almost every day. Getting stuck in the worry can block parents from actually talking with their children about the issue they really care about. In this case her bigger question was, “How do I help my daughter learn the difference between what is okay for us to do at home and what is okay out in the world?”
First, I suggested that this mom find a neutral time and say something like this to her daughter– “Remember the other day when you pinched my butt? That was kind of funny, wasn’t it? Our family likes to be playful with each other, right? Do you like it when mommy or daddy pinches you in play?” This is opening up the conversation to the two main parenting points here, rules of the family vs. rules in the wider world and consent to touch. The last question allows for the child to think about her wants and likes.
Next, I suggested she could say, “You know, sometimes I like it when you touch me like that and sometimes I might not. Do you ever have times you don’t like to be touched or want to be left alone?” Now, your own child may be super affectionate and she might say she likes to be touched all the time or you could have a child that is already developing some times she doesn’t want to be touched. Either way, you can speak from your own desires to model what that might be like or use her no touch times as an example.
Continuing the conversation, mom can say, “Every person has times when they want to be touched and times when they don’t. If you feel like you don’t want to be pinched one day or even hugged, you can tell me and I will honor your request. I might feel that way some days too and ask you for the same thing. What do you think of that?” The dialogue can continue as the parent models the way the family is valuing touch and consent, and as the parent listens she learn more about how her child thinks and feels. The child not only begins to learn that it is natural to have times when touch is wanted and times when it is not, she learns that she has a right to her own body.
The lesson can be extended to outside the family noting that every family has rules about touch, so that we have to ask permission to touch other people, especially when it comes to touching certain parts of the body, like someone’s butt. We are showing that every family is different and that this is okay, we just have to take the time to learn the other person’s wishes by asking. These lessons will take a lot of reminders and practice within the home, just like everything else we teach our children, but parents will have laid the groundwork for healthy consent that will be valuable throughout your child’s life.