New research with MRI technology has now revealed that children can understand concepts of consent and bodily boundaries at much younger age than previously thought. According to this new information toddlers (12-36 months of age) can learn about and understand the concept of consent.
One major aspect of consent is empathy, or being able to put yourself in someone else’s place and understand how they feel. An important part of empathy is being able to read people’s facial expressions and body language. The other major part is communication, such as communicating what one’s comfortable with or if they do not want someone to touch, hug or kiss them.
To start teaching emotional intelligence and empathy to your little one, begin to point out when people are sad or happy, as well as how their actions affect people. You can say things such as “look how happy mommy is because you gave her a hug” or “look how sad your brother/sister is when you don’t share”. Emotion or feeling flashcards are helpful as well. These practices will build both empathy and emotional intelligence with your child.
Once your child understands empathy a little better, you can also teach your child better communication skills. This can be difficult with toddlers, especially when they are feeling something strongly (anger, sadness, frustration). Try having your child breathe deeply and try to help them identify and talk about how they are feeling.
With these skills you can also teach healthy body boundaries. Instead of forcing your child to hug or kiss someone they do want to (i.e. a distant relative, mom, dad, a friend), ask them to say “No, thank you, I don’t want a hug/kiss/etc”. If their friend, brother or sister, also do not want to be touched, remind them to respect their decision.
Before giving your child a massage with Storybook, as well as a hug or kiss, ask for their permission. It is important for your little one to learn that they make decisions about their body and who can touch them. As with anything, it is going to take time and practice.