By the time your child is a teenager they will have had millions of experiences that informed their understanding of consent. Ones that you may have not even considered. It’s perhaps our narrow ways of thinking about teaching and learning that lead us to imagine a teaching moment as one that involves a lecture of some sort. But learning, especially for young children, happens underneath language in the subtle layers of the body.
Diaper changes are an incredible, and often missed, opportunity for teaching about consent and respect. Diaper changes are often rushed through, dreaded (by all parties), done forcefully, quickly, and without permission. A child will have roughly 5,000 diaper changes in their first few years. That’s 5,000 opportunities to teach your child about respect, intimacy, boundaries, and connection.
Here are some simple ways to build in experiences that will enrich your baby’s understanding of healthy consent through diaper changes.
These guidelines are based on Magda Gerber's approach, called Resource for Infant Educators (RIE). Check out this sweet video of a diaper change that follows this approach. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1TZIYMpy9Fc
(This video is of a very long, 8 minute diaper change. I’m not suggesting that all diaper changes take this long, but it gives a view into a possibility!)
Here's two great posts by Janet Lansbury for more ideas on how to change diapers respectfully: how-to-love-a-diaper-change and the-evolution-of-a-diaper-change-2.
I am bursting with many more ideas for ways to support the development of consent! More to come!
With love and deep respect,
I was driving near Arcata, CA. I lived there while going to college. It’s a place full of the magic of the ocean, redwoods, and sweet community. The sun was beginning to peak out from morning fog. I don’t remember where we were headed. I was taking care of a three year old girl. I had taken care of her since she was just four months. We were driving, she was in her car seat in the back.
“Do you love your cousin?” She asked, with a real curiosity that was palpable.
“Ya, I have lots of cousins and I love all of them.” We paused, and I could almost feel her thinking.
“Do you love your friends?” I let the question really sit with me for a moment.
“Yes, I do love my friends.” We paused again, in thoughtful silence.
“And do you love your mom?” Her little voice, so sincere…
“I do love my mom, very much.” A long silence passed, and I almost changed the subject or asked her about whether she loved the people in her life, but I could feel she was about to say something more. I waited…and waited….glancing at her face in the rear view mirror with anticipation.
“Ya, because everyone has to love everybody that they have.”
As she said this, we drove on an overpass and the view of the ocean opened to me. I felt the wisdom of her words spread over me…”Everyone has to love everybody that they have.”
The love that we hunger for lives within us. It is the undercurrent of all of our relationships. We don’t really get to choose whether we love people or not. It is there.
We do get to choose how much we open to the love that is there. We can choose to resist it, push it away, or we can surrender to it. We can let the waves of it wash over us. Instead of rushing to get to work we can take two minutes to let an eager child share a drawing. We can stop ourselves from interrupting a child's thoughts and wait for them to speak. We can take a big breath and listen to their crying, feeling the pain of their hearts, instead of distracting them from their sadness. We can show a loved one that they hurt us when they didn’t show up, instead of pretending it’s ok. We can allow the pain of loving one another to move through us, so that the light of loving one another can shine.
May we practice expressing our love with fullness, gentleness, grit, fierceness, and tenacity.
Dear devoted parent,
I sit here, this evening, in a state of humbleness and respect.
I have been studying children for years. I have spent, literally, thousands of hours taking care of young children: changing their diapers, eating with them, and having showdowns about getting into the car seat.
When I studied Child Development at Humboldt State, I learned new ways of being with children. I learned theory that taught me to respect children as individuals, support their right to know and speak their mind, to acknowledge their emotional depth and intelligence. I learned that they need empathy and compassion. I learned that the foundation of healthy development is sensitive and responsive relationships with adults. These are topics that you must be interested in. (Why else would you read my blog?)
I began to practice these new ways of being with children at the preschool on campus. While I was quick to understand why theses changes needed to happen, developing the how came a little slower. Okay, a lot slower. To be honest, it was not rare for me to leave preschool and go home crying. I felt like a complete and utter failure. (How was I supposed to get a kid to pick up the blocks he refused to pick up without promising him with a reward?! Or stop a kid from hitting without putting her on time-out?)
There was no magic formula on what to do or say. I flailed and at the end of the day, I got to go home (wrecked and vulnerable) and get a full night's sleep (sorry- not trying to rub it in).
Most of you didn't get to study child development or practice with children in a structured environment. You are (most probably) tired, because parenting still has to happen at 3 in morning. You are learning how to take care of and interact with children while building a relationship with your child. A relationship that pulls from you your deepest love while also touching your deepest wounds.
I have been left feeling awestruck by the courage I have seen in you. I am amazed by your ability to show up for your children, offering them all that you can.
I bow to you. I bow to the depths of your awareness, your pure intentions, your devotion, and your strength. I bow to your ability to challenge yourself, to feel your own tenderness, and to heal your own wounds. I bow to your ability to take in new information and to be open to trying something new.
I am learning what love is as I walk with you on this journey.
With appreciation and respect,
P.S. There is something about this post that has just been under my skin since I posted... I want to make it clear that I value all of the life experience that parents have before they become parents that makes it possible for them to be the awesome parents that they are...taking care of siblings, family members, being a massage therapist or bodyworker, running a business, being in therapy, learning to take care of yourself, slowing down, enjoying life, and thousands of other experiences that support parenting. I realize that these experiences are valuable. I was just reflecting on one specific aspect of experience that prepares caregivers to be with children: the application of developmental and mental health ideas to interactions.
whew, i feel better.
I am lucky enough to spend time with young children. Recently I had an beautiful conversation with a wise two year old buddy of mine...
We had just shared some food and were now playing side by side.
Child: "It's good to share."
Me: " Ya, it feels good to share." (Here, I did a little reframing. I wanted to leave the realm of good/bad and focus on the enjoyable feelings that arise from sharing).
We made eye contact and smiled at one another. We continued playing.
Me: "Sometimes, it feels good to say no too." (I have been supporting this child in saying no to peers, as she can have a hard time saying no. I wanted her to realize that it can feel good for a person to choose not to share and that she had support in saying no).
Child: "Ya." She looked at me and paused. She nodded. She then said, " And it feels a little sad."
Me: I paused, struck by her consideration of the topic and her ability to reflect on her feelings. "Ya, it is a little sad." (Here she supported me in reframing my understanding to include the emotional complexities of saying no.)
Saying no often creates some sort of rupture in the relationship. Having a two year old acknowledge that saying no brings sadness, touched me. I am reminded of the developmental stress that must be felt by young children (and people of any age) when the need to say no to others is strong. May we have compassion for one's who need to say NO and for the ones who have to come up against it's boundary.
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It may be a little early in my blogging life to go on a rant...but sometimes it's just got to get out!
Go ahead. Read the title again. Just let it sink in.
"She doesn't listen to me!" How many times to you hear adults say this about children?
Now I'll remind you the basic definitions of the words 'listen' and 'obey'.
Listen: 1. to pay attention to sound
2. to hear something with thoughtful attention : give consideration
3. to be alert to catch an expected sound
Obey: 1. to follow the commands or guidance of
2. to conform to or comply with
Most of the time, when I hear adults saying this about children they are referring to the fact that the child is not obeying. Most of the time, adults say this after they just told the child to do something, after giving a command (commonly with out the use of manners).
So they should really be saying, "She doesn't obey me!" Sounds kind of barbaric, right? Like they're talking about a dog. Is it really fair to expect a child to obey?
If my studies in child development have taught me anything, it's that expecting children to obey is never developmentally appropriate.
While I understand the desire for a child who obeys, (trust me-I really do. I have spend countless hours helping children do things they don't want to do), when we reflect on what this would mean for the development of that child's future to simply obey rules from authority, I think many of us would realize that we can imagine a brighter future for our children. Do you really want a child who obeys everyone who seems to have power, mindlessly? Or even obey people that they love when it doesn't feel right? (think about sexual consent). A culture of people who obey without thoughtful consideration is a recipe for disaster. The most successful people often break rules while creating their work. And many of the worlds most beloved social leaders disobey authority in their fight for a just world. If I do say so myself, what the world needs a fresh group of children with the intelligence to disobey.
I try, with out full success, to see every disobedience and disagreement from a child as evidence of their developing strength, sense of self, and self-respect.
Sometimes, when people adults say "He isn't listening!" They really do mean listening. A adults, we have something important to share with a child and they are not giving us thoughtful consideration. This happens in all communication. When I feel this happening with a child, I realize that I probably need to take a "moment break". To calm myself down and reflect more on the situation. If a child isn't hearing something I have to say, the way that I'm saying it needs to shift. It also may be a sign that the child doesn't feel heard. Sometimes adults expect children to listen to them, even when the child hasn't had a chance to be heard. A child is much more likely to cooperate with you if she feels felt, understood, and valued.
A few tips on talking so that children will listen:
So that's it for now.
Let's let clarity in language bring us into clarity in action.
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