What is consent?
Consent is an agreement between people that they want to do something.
F.R.I.E.S is an acronym to help us understand the language around consent…
- Freely given - Consent should be given without force, pressure or manipulation. This includes being under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Reversible - Anyone can change their mind about what they consent to at any time. It’s never too late to say no.
- Informed - All parties need to know exactly what they are consenting to.
- Enthusiastic - Consent should be enthusiastic. If it’s not an enthusiastic yes, it's a no.
- Specific - Consent should be specific. Saying yes or no to one thing doesn’t mean consent is automatically given for something else.
Why should we teach consent?
Knowing about consent can help protect children of all ages and disabilities against negative sexual experiences and prevent them from engaging in harmful sexual behaviour. When we teach our children the language around consent, they are more likely to have healthy, respectful, safe and enjoyable sexual experiences when they’re ready.
How can we teach consent?
1. Talk early. Talk often.
Start talking to your children about consent as early as possible. Ask questions and give them the opportunity to say no safely (whether that’s verbally or non-verbally e.g. sign language, shaking their head, AAC). This will help your child develop awareness of personal boundaries and create a safe space for your child to ask questions about consent, relationships and sex.
Have plenty of ‘small talks’ about consent during everyday interactions. Find opportunities to raise the topic in everyday life e.g. talking about a scene in a TV show, a movie, or debriefing about an incident at school.
2. Use appropriate language
Use language and examples appropriate for your child’s level of understanding.
You might start with teaching personal boundaries around physical touch. For example, “You decide who hugs, kisses or tickles you. You can say no if you feel uncomfortable or scared”. Your child may need extra support to understand these words so take the time to explain what they mean.
3. Look for the clues
Non-verbal communication tells us a lot about how someone is feeling and whether they feel comfortable giving consent. Look at pictures, TV shows or movies where people may look uncomfortable or scared and talk about what they can see or hear (e.g. facial expression, poor posture, tone of voice). Use this information to talk about what the characters might be thinking and feeling.
4. Model consent
Parents and carers play an important role in modelling consent in front of their children. For example, asking “Can mum have a kiss?”. If they say no, show your child that you acknowledge their personal boundary and respond appropriately (e.g. “I’m glad you told me, can I have a high five instead?”).
5. Do your own research
Children may ask questions around consent that you don’t know the answer to and that’s okay! Instead of making up an answer, tell them you’re glad they asked, that you don’t know the answer but will look for some information and get back to them.
Resources for parents, carers and professionals
- ‘Welcome to Consent: How to say no, when to say yes and everything in between’ by Yumi Stynes and Dr. Melissa Kang
- ‘Don't Hug Doug (He Doesn't Like It)’ by Carrie Finiso
- The SECCA App is a free resource that includes visuals and lesson plans to support access to relationships and sexuality education for people of all ages and abilities. https://www.secca.org.au/
- Easy to read resource with visuals about sex and consent: https://oursite-easyread.wwda.org.au/sex-and-your-body/sex-and-consent/what-is-consent/
If you have questions or would like more information regarding how a speech pathologist could support you in this area, please contact us on (02) 4862 5063 to book an appointment with one of our certified practising Speech Pathologists.