Developing healthy boundaries and feeling able to say ‘no’, is extremely important for children as it is for adults. Having ownership over what we experience enables us to feel valued and respected, which is vital for our overall physical and emotional well-being. Mini Me Yoga founder Dr Kate Bartram-Brown, developed a 15 minute programme which uses kids yoga, meditation and mindfulness, to create happy, confident and empowered children.
This week, our wonderful Ambassador Justine Merton-Scott talks to us about story massage, and how it can be used to support children’s understanding of consent.Recently it seems that every time you turn on the TV or radio, or go on social media, there is yet another story about sexual harassment or inappropriate behaviour. This has lead to a swathe of commentary about the type of subtle, and not so subtle, messages society sends out about consent, especially to children. Even fairy stories such as Sleeping Beauty have been called into question by some for the way they imply that consent is not important whilst others argue this is taking things too far.
When even we, as parents and carers, find these issues confusing; how do we teach children about them? And how do we do so in an age appropriate way and without making touch something to be afraid of? You might feel nervous, embarrassed, even horrified at the thought of discussing this kind of thing with very young children (yes, we’re talking toddlers here) but the truth is that it’s important to ensure they know that they have choices, they can be in control, they deserve to be respected and in turn they should respect others.
One good way to do this is through massage and positive touch activities (plus it’s lots of fun too!). In my classes I do peer massage activities with the children and also run story massage workshops for parents. We have a fundamental rule that, before touching the other person, we must always explicitly ask permission – it makes no difference if that person is our child/parent/sibling/best friend or we have massaged them a hundred times before, we must still ask ‘can I massage you today?’ and their choice must be respected. Consent can also be withdrawn at any time by saying ‘stop’ and, again, this must be respected.This gives children the very clear message that no one has the right to touch their body without their permission, including adults; and that they must respect the rights of others too. It is the same reason that, when well-meaning friends and relatives tell their child to give me a hug, I always say to the child ‘you don’t have to hug me if you don’t want to’. In my opinion, forcing young children to give hugs to adults (no matter how well known and loved they may be) when they don’t want to, gives children very confused messages about consent.
It is also important that at the end of the massage we say ‘thank you’. This is as you would expect, except it is not the recipient of the massage who says ‘thank you’ but the giver, in recognition of the huge privilege they have been given in being allowed to touch the other person.
Insisting on asking permission, gaining consent and saying thank you may seem trivial but the consequences of not giving these clear messages can be far from trivial as current events demonstrate. It is vital that we raise our children with the confidence to know that they, and only they, are the bosses of their own bodies and what better way to do it than through modelling respect by sharing positive touch together.
I am based in Leeds and am the MMY ambassador for Yorkshire and the North East. I have over 20 years experience of working with children and families, particularly families with disabled children, in both the public and voluntary sector. As well as MMY, I am a Relax Kids coach running classes in the Leeds area, and a Massage In Schools Programme and Story Massage instructor.
In my spare time, I love going to gigs, travelling, cooking and will soon be spending lots of time running as I have signed up to do the Great North Run in Sept 2018!
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