We can teach our children at a very young age to respect others’ body autonomy and space by paying attention to their body language.
For example, we can make teachable moments when we point out to young children “see how Wyatt covers his face and frowns when you splash water on him? That tells us he is not enjoying the splashing. What else could you two play together that you both enjoy?” (Teaches win-win solutions.)
A pet offers many teachable moments about body language. “See how our cat is trying to wiggle out of your arms? That is her way of letting you know that she doesn’t want to be held right now. Could you see if the cat would like to play with the string.”
Everyday moments like these set us up for more mature conversations down the line. With teens it’s important to ask if they understand consent and also how to tell if consent is enthusiastic. It’s not just about getting a “yes”. It’s about cultivating a relationship where both partners feel completely safe and free to say “no”. This can be a difficult thing to discuss with your teen – for you and them. Consider starting with something simple like asking your teenager how they know if someone wants a kiss or a hug? Ask them what they would do if the person they are dating said “yes” to a kiss, but their body language told a different story. Remember, all of this can be done within the context of your values and your expectations. Talking to a teen about dating doesn’t mean you have to allow them to date at their current age. In fact you can point out healthy behaviors in couples to very young children. “See how that couple helps each other carry the groceries? What a great way to work together!” Talking to a teen about what a healthy sexual relationship looks like doesn’t mean you can’t set clear expectations about your teen not having sex as a teenager.
Respecting our playmates, romantic partners, family members, and even our furry friends is often about the small moments that make up a healthy and safe relationship. By cultivating communication about body language in all sorts of situations through small teachable moments we can give them the skills they need to create their own positive relationships.