For over half a decade there has been a conversation brewing surrounding how to begin a healthy conversation surrounding consent and body autonomy when it comes to young children.
Alissa, a thirty-two-year-old mom and elementary school teacher from Chicago, is inspiring other parents of young children surrounding these controversial topics to her on TikTok.
Her videos demonstrate how she talks to her sons - who are 2 and 4 - through everyday mundanities such as getting dressed and brushing their hair, all the while teaching them about consent.
"OK, bud, time to pick out your clothes, you want to do it yourself?" she'll ask. "Do you need help getting dressed?"
And when it comes to the dreaded diaper changes, Alissa delineates how she talks her son through the process, explaining exactly what she's doing, whether that's saying "I'm taking off your diaper—dirty diaper!" or "I'm going to lift up your legs and put your pants back on."
She explains in a caption, "The goal is to make him feel involved and not like a passive observer having his body manipulated."
Alissa believes it is good as a mother to be conscious of consent while bonding with her children as well by asking them permission before she hugs them and immediately stopping if during a tickle session her son yells "Stop."
@once.upon.a.mama Just a few examples ✨ IG: once.upon.a.mama ##momsoftiktok ##momtok ##parent ##parenting ##fyp ##momlife ##toddler ##dadsoftiktok ##mom ##momsover30 ##momhack
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During an interview with Buzzfeed, she explains how she splits tasks into 2 categories: "must do" and "may do". The former "must do" are tasks which have to be done such as brushing their teeth - however, she'll give her boys "controlled choices" like choosing whether to brush their teeth now or definitely will in 5 minutes.
She explains that this way they feel like they have options and "are in control of their body in SOME way."
On the other hand, "may do" tasks could be something as simple as putting a ribbon in your daughter's hair. "I would ask first before doing [those] because they aren't completely necessary!" she advised. "Does your daughter REALLY need to have a bow in her hair if she doesn't want it, just because it looks cute?"
However, she said the main cause of the issue comes when getting consent to touch your child. Alissa believes "I think consent during the physical touch like hugs or tickling is imperative for all ages (except hugging babies, of course, since they need that nurturing)."
"Ask children first if you can hug them, if you can tickle them, etc. And if they say stop, STOP! We want to have them understand the boundaries of their own bodies and others."
Alissa's parenting techniques have led to over 7 million views on her TikTok videos, which have received lots of lively commentaries praising the mom for demonstrating her approach.
She told Buzzfeed that her knowledge of what she calls "consensual care" comes from studying early childhood education at Illinois State University.
"Throughout my years of working with children, I had time to practice these skills and activities to see what worked and what didn't work," she noted. "It made sense to me to carry over the same methods to my own children. I believe teaching children consent and body boundaries should be one of the very first things they learn in the world."
Her thought is echoed by clinical psychologist and family therapist Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D. believes learning consent early can help with a child's emotional development: "Have a dialogue about the process, giving the child the sense that they are participating and therefore consenting," she recommends. "They learn that they have their own minds and can think separately from their parent."
In 2018, the conversation seemed to hit national headlines when sexuality expert Deanne Carson from Australia said we need to work with children from birth to create a "culture of consent" proposing phrases like "I'm going to change your diaper now, is that OK?" to newborn babies.
"Of course a baby's not going to respond and say, 'Yes, mum, that's awesome, I'd love to have my nappy changed!' but if you leave a space, and wait for body language, and wait to make eye contact, then you're letting that child know that their response matters," says Deanne.
ABC Interviews “Sexuality Expert" Says Babies Must Consent to Diaper Change https://t.co/sWEu4GJYK1 pic.twitter.com/86GAQf8zmy
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What do you think? Should there be a lot of communication and consent with a child that isn't fully capable of responding?