By Lauren: Since I first came to Elm House, I have been thoroughly impressed with the amount and quality of consent work that is happening within this community. Teachers often say things like “Be sure to ask for consent before you hug someone!” and the children respond by taking a step back and asking “Hug?” or “Can I hug you?”
Consent is so important! Especially with toddlers who are exploring their new found autonomy, learning that they have the right to say “no” to physical touches as well as the responsibility to respect another’s “no” is extremely powerful. Consent must be freely given, and can be taken away as well. It’s not uncommon to see children engaging in what I have come to consider “consent games” where they exercise this principle. One child will ask for a hug, the other will say “yes” and they’ll hug. Then the second child will ask for a hug, the other will say “yes” and another hug will be given. This exchange is often interspersed with children saying “no” between all the yeses and, low and behold, those nos are being respect. It’s amazing to see toddlers understanding that just because a hug was accepted once, does not mean they get to hug again.
Yesterday, I witnessed one such consent game during outside time. CG, WS and CW were chasing each other around the yard and grabbing each other. With a quick reminder from me, “Don’t forget to ask for consent before you hug!” the grabs began to be preceded by outstretched arms and a questioning “Hug?”As the hugs were given, all three children laughed and then began to chase again, repeating the pattern. On occasions where “no” or a firm head shake was the answer, laughs were exchanged and the chasing resumed. Often followed by a hug the next time. Seeing children playing these consent games makes my heart swell! I am so happy that children are learning that they have a right to bodily autonomy at that their peers do as well. If you’re looking for a simple way to start the consent conversation with your child at home, I emphatically recommend the book “C is for Consent” by Eleanor Morrison and Faye Orlove. It’s a book you might be familiar with already from drop off story times in our cubby room. I love how clearly it illustrates consent for children!