Dear Sarah: An Advice Column Addressing Everything from Toddler Tantrums to Teenager Troubles
The #MeToo movement has me wondering – how we can raise daughters who will speak out about harassment and abuse, and know that it is not their fault? Can you share your thoughts about this?
I am raising a daughter too, and I share your concerns. I congratulate you for broaching this important topic. As parents, we are the earliest and best teachers of our children regarding their bodies and their rights. We can empower them from very young ages in a wide variety of ways.
Here are just a few of my thoughts for parenting all children – our daughters and sons:
- In infancy – As much as possible, respond with touch and comfort when your baby cries. Crying is the first form of “speaking out” and we want our babies to know that we will hear and respond to them.
- During the toddler years – Avoid scooping them up unexpectedly and telling them that they need a diaper change. This is early messaging about consent. Instead ask, “Would you like a diaper change?” Let them tell you when they are ready. Trust me, when the diaper gets uncomfortable they will tell you.
- At all ages – Do not require them to hug or kiss you, or anyone else. Teach them to offer a handshake, or say “no thanks”, to someone they don’t wish to hug. Always allow them to choose who touches them in intimate ways.
- Among their friends and siblings – Teach consent in age appropriate ways. For instance, If they are wrestling or tickling discuss how it has to be ok with everyone, or it has to stop. If you hear one child saying “No!” or “Stop it” and the other child continuing anyway, back the first child up saying, “I heard Jenny say ‘no’ so you need to stop right now!”
- Give positive reinforcement to children when they are using good consent etiquette. For example, “I like how you said ‘no’ clearly and loudly, with a serious expression on your face. That way people know you really mean it.” or “I’m glad that you stopped as soon as Bobby told you that he didn’t want to wrestle any more. It is really important that both people are having fun.”
There are so many more examples that I could give, all throughout the lifespan. The most important thing is to look for those “teachable moments” and use them intentionally to teach our children to respect themselves and each other.
Thanks for writing in!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sarah read her first parenting book when she was 13 years old. She loved babysitting in high school. In her twenties, she taught at an after-school program so that she could practice on other peoples’ kids before having her own. She was often heard saying, “I am so lucky! I get paid to play kickball and teach kids how to resolve their conflicts!” By age 25, she was the Director of that same program, developing workshops for her staff on how to work more effectively and respectfully with children.
Sarah is currently a parenting consultant/psychotherapist in private practice in Northampton, MA. She offers parenting consultations, support groups, couples counseling and individual therapy, and she has brought her workshops to parents and educators all over New England and beyond. As Sarah rounds the corner toward 50, she still feels lucky every day to be doing the work that she loves.
Ask questions for the column or sample parenting workshops at sarahgetoff.com