4 things to keep in mind when talking to your little ones about bodily autonomy

4 things to keep in mind when talking to your little ones about bodily autonomy

By Gabby Cushman

Embrace your learners expressing their personal freedom


Consent, bodily autonomy, and boundaries are crucial to teach kids about at an early age so they can learn to assert what they’re comfortable with as they grow up. I remember growing up and only really hearing about consent in health class concerning physical touch. And although that’s essential for our little ones to understand, that’s only the start of this conversation. Bodily autonomy also involves having the freedom to physically remove yourself from a situation, choose what you feel comfortable wearing, and more. Below, we have four things to keep in mind when you talk to your learners about consent and bodily autonomy. As always, this is just a starting point and we encourage you to dive deeper into your Bodily Autonomy learning kits for more tips on this!


Don’t talk down to kids about consent - they likely already have an idea of what they’re comfortable with!

Think back to when you were a kid - you likely had boundaries you set that you may not have even realized. Once I was a preteen, I preferred to have my door shut when I was hanging out in my room and asked my family to knock before coming in. Because my family respected this boundary, I had a safe private space I could retreat to when I wanted to be by myself. My parents didn’t have to explain to me how to set that boundary, I just recognized how I wanted my personal space to be used and communicated that. Keep this in mind when starting a conversation about consent with your little ones. Use direct language and ask if they understand what you’re saying instead of assuming they’re not knowledgeable on this topic. When you treat kids as capable people who can express themselves and their boundaries, you give them more confidence to assert these boundaries with others. 


Affirm and validate the boundaries your little ones want to set

The last thing anyone wants when they’re communicating what’s comfortable for them is to be rejected or judged. Imagine telling your friend that you aren’t comfortable with hugs, and them responding, “No, you have to give me a hug.” We wouldn’t expect our adult peers to react that way, it sounds silly. So you want to make sure you treat your kids similarly! If your little one says they don’t feel comfortable hugging their relatives, or if they want to retreat somewhere quieter during social gatherings, you want to make sure you’re supporting their freedom to make those decisions. It’s also good to ask questions to better understand why they want these boundaries. Of course, there are going to be some requests you can’t fulfill for kids, such as them wanting to stay home alone from a family event when they’re too young to do so. In these situations, make sure to explain why you can’t allow that, and try to compromise the best you can (possibly leaving the event early or setting up an area they can decompress in).


Practice consent by offering children decisions to choose between on a daily basis

With the topics we talk about in our monthly learning kits and on the blog, it’s great to try to incorporate them into our day-to-day lives. Practicing consent can be done daily just by offering your little ones choices when they come up! For example, instead of just hugging them, ask them if they want a hug or not. If they’re still at the age where you’re helping them pick out their clothes, let them have some agency in choosing what they wear on a given day. Even in some situations where kids may not want to do something, such as brushing their teeth, you can give them options to feel like they have more control, like picking out what toothpaste they want to use. Offering these choices to your little ones during your usual routines normalizes the idea of setting boundaries and giving consent.


Use accurate and specific language for body parts to normalize using those words

A crucial aspect of teaching consent and bodily autonomy to kids is making sure they know the correct terminology for their anatomy. This is important for situations where they may have to describe an inappropriate interaction as well as normalizing these words for use in less serious situations. Instead of using the term “private area,” teach your little ones that the words “vagina” and “penis” are more accurate and appropriate to use when describing those areas of the body. We want to make sure we’re not grouping these scientific terms in with inappropriate slang words for our anatomy that we don’t want our little ones saying. There’s a difference between using “bad words” and properly describing body parts.


In the past, we published a blog about tips for teaching learners about consent in the classroom. Feel free to check that blog out here!

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