No Means No: Teaching Consent to Children

The other day, my son and I had a very interesting conversation about the word “no.”

Honestly, I don’t remember the context but I’ll tell you what I remember. I was telling him that no is a complete sentence to which he giggled. 

“When someone says No, they mean it Zaviar,” I told him. When they say No they can mean so many things: they can mean no I don’t want to, no I don’t feel like it, no I’m not comfortable, no I don’t want it, no I don’t think so, no I would rather do something else, etc, etc. But they always mean NO. 

The word never means: Maybe, I’m thinking about it, perhaps, if you really want to, I don’t really mean what I say! 

People sometimes think that no does not mean no, my dear, but that’s not true and you should always remember that. No means no! That’s what we mean when we say it’s a complete sentence! 

Zaviar: but why would people think it means anything other than no? It’s as easy as the word “cat.” Everyone knows what it means! How could they think it means anything else?!

What should I tell you, my love? I am just sitting here hoping with all my heart that I’m raising you into the man who will always understand consent just like you’re telling me now. 

Kids are so much smarter than we give them credit for. And they think so much! I hope he is always this clear about knowing the whole meaning of no when he’s a grown-up. I hope he thinks with the same level of clarity that he’s thinking with, today. 

Because no really is as easy as “cat”. Everyone knows the meaning of the word cat. So everyone definitely should have the common sense to know that no definitely only means no.

How to Introduce the Concept of Consent in Children

Respect their boundaries.

If they don’t want to be tickled, DON’T tickle them! If they don’t want to hug and kiss your cousin’s wife, hell will not break loose. If you don’t respect their boundaries, how can they respect the boundaries others set for themselves?

Teach them that no means No.

It’s not difficult and children are very matter-of-fact when it comes to understanding things. Like my son said, it’s as simple as “cat.”

Teach them bodily autonomy and personal space

Everyone has personal space and no one should be able to invade this invisible wall unless you explicitly let them. Let them make their own decisions but hold your boundaries. If you have a rule for a goodnight kiss, keep it! But if someday, your child isn’t in the mood, then also give them that liberty.

Set your own boundaries and rules

Stick to the rules you make. If you say no and then later give in, then how will they understand that no means no? They will always think the other person will eventually give in to their demands. 

Model consent with your partner and other children

“Can I give you a hug?”

“Sure, I’d love a hug!”

“Can I have a hug?”

“No, I don’t feel like it right now…”

These interactions teach kids what is acceptable and what’s not and also that one doesn’t have to be offended if the other person isn’t ready for a hug or a kiss or simply isn’t in the mood! 

Teach them to say No!

Having grown up in a people-pleasing culture, one of the first things I realized was that I do not want the same for my kids. We still smile and accept so much that we don’t realize how much we are torturing ourselves inside. If someone asks us for a favor and we can’t do it, why is it so difficult to say no? It shouldn’t be! Teach your sons and daughters that it’s okay to say no. Be polite but say it. Others are important, but so are you. No means no, but it also means you have to learn to SAY no. 

That’s it! It’s definitely not easy but it shouldn’t be hard either! Remember, no means no and it’s as easy as “cat”! Only we can teach our children what’s right and wrong and how lovely would it be if we end up making a difference in their lives!

Farwah Shah
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