Some of you might wonder as to how the topic of this article holds valid for Preschoolers.
Fair enough. Allow me to explain how the very thought of discussing ‘consent for Kindergartners ‘ cropped up.
Many a times, young parents walk up to me and ask, “My child is asking me questions about the # Me Too movement . They see it on television / newspapers and want to know what ‘Me Too’ is all about . Aren’t they too young to be talking about this? What do we answer them?”
It is such questions that led me to discuss the matter at length.
To nurture the 21st century learners, one thing which doesn’t work at all, is to brush things under the carpet. So let’s discuss this clearly and openly. Adult guardians need to discuss this with each other and when needed, with their children too.
Is it too early to talk about ‘consent’ to Preschoolers?
Firstly, we need to disengage the word ‘consent’ from ‘sexual consent’.
With early childhood learners, we need to deal with consent as a vital life skill.
So once we deal with ‘consent’ as a life skill, then the answer is – “No, it is not too early to discuss this with your child”.
Just as we teach them about tying their shoelaces , buttoning their shirts , cleaning themselves , courtesy and good manners , so also we must teach them to learn to read body language and nonverbal clues. (Their own as well as those of their peers/ family etc).
Such as, a frown means – I may be confused. A smile means – I am feeling happy. A high five means – I agree with you.
How Can you Teach children to recognize Non Verbal clues?
The best way is by talking to them. While reading a story about Grizzly Bear, you may casually remark, “Ah, look at Ishaan. I don’t think he would like to be in the forest “.
If grandmother is sitting reading her prayer book, you may say, “I don’t think she would prefer to be disturbed at this time”
If your pet is taking a nap, you could say, “This is definitely not the time to play with Zorro”.
If the elder sibling is doing some Project work, you may say, “Didi needs to work by herself. Let’s check with her an hour later if she is ready to play with you “.
Remember, children need to be taught how to read body language and how to respond to that as well.
“See, Grandma is thankful that you let her complete her prayers “.
“Didi is thrilled because she completed a wonderful project. She looks so excited “.
“Zorro is ready to play now. You can see him wagging his tail and that’s a happy signal “.
Do not confuse ‘privacy and space’ with lack of empathy or feeling of togetherness. Treat it as an expression of their sexuality. Each child has his / her own unique sexuality and we need to teach our children to respect their own sexuality and those of others as well .
I remember my childhood days when a particular look on my father’s face would make me disappear from his line of vision for hours ! Teach your children to read your body signals and clues . They are as important as the spoken word.
Why do the stage and the mirror form an important part of our Preschool set up?
Well, it is to teach children to see what emotions look like. To learn to read a happy/ sad / confused face. It is as important for children to learn to read their emotions as well as those of others. (There are umpteen researches which reveal that children with relationship issues in adulthood were never taught to recognise and read emotions during childhood. They never learnt how to express emotions either)
Do children know when to say Yes / No?
The honest answer is that children at this age are on their way to a number of discoveries! Just as they are beginning to realise whether they have a sweet tooth or not, whether they prefer an orange candy or vanilla Ice cream, similarly they are beginning to discover some body urges / moods and preferences. This is the building up of their sexuality -the way they like to eat, walk, talk, sit, dress etc. So they need help in defining what a no or yes mean.
There is nothing wrong in setting up a home rule which says that “Dad likes to rest for half an hour after lunch, so no noise!”.
“Mom likes to read a book in silence on a Sunday afternoon, so no noise “.
Rahul loves the colour pink , so yes – he can have a pink bag .
Validate their body signals
Allow your children to shape up their preferences and express them too. Most children need help in recognising body signals. When your young one is rolling on the floor in an interesting display of tantrum, you may say, “I can see that you are upset. But rolling won’t get you anywhere. Talking to mummy could help”.
Some teachers use a good welcome practice. While ushering the children into the class, they give them multiple choices as to how would they like to be welcomed – with a hug, a high five, a jig or a verbal welcome. When this exercise is repeated a couple of times, children gradually learn to recognise what they like. They learn to recognize their body signals. Encourage them and respect the same .
Encourage children to read emotions – If a child is visibly uncomfortable at being hugged, tell the child that its okay with you.
If a child is not comfortable holding hands, tell the child that this is okay too. Let them be for a while.
Give due attention and regard to their body signals.
If a child wants to use the washroom in the middle of an Activity/ Homework, do not shush them down. Help them believe that they are beginning to read their body urges well. Yes, there will be some false signals and alarms out here, but most children will gradually wean off from giving false alarms.
If you shush them at this point of time, they lose faith in their ability to read their body signals & urges. From bladder control to building of anger / excitement to natural sexual curiosity – children need to be able to read them.
If the teacher /parent disregards or disclaims their urges and brushes them away often, children stop trusting their natural instincts. Such children are not likely to talk to their adult guardians years later when they undergo hormonal changes, menstrual discomfort and matters of sexual exploration
Because they have no faith in their own body urges, they apply the same principle to their peers, friends and companions. They are unable to recognise a nonverbal clue or physical discomfort of people around them.
They are unable to take a ‘no ‘ for a no.
So teaching consent and respecting consent needs to be brought in from an early age.
And again, the trick is to keep things natural, conversational and as free flowing as possible.