At what age should we teach our kids about consent?

 The illustrations are originals by @Paulcarlonillustration on Instagram.

We’re blessed to have two very affectionate children. My four year old in particular is a delightful young man who will happily, and randomly, announce his love for us or his sister…or our dog, or his koala teddy, or his cheese sandwich.

Any concern we had over sibling rivalry has been squashed by the genuine affection he and his one year old sister show for one another. They hold hands, they hug, they call out for each in the morning…every morning…early!

However, this morning we encountered an interesting and novel situation. My daughter wanted cuddles from her mother, and not from my son. In fact when my son moved in for his morning group hug, my daughter pushed him away and gave him her patented “Thunderbrow”.

My son was very upset. Tears and sniffles upset. He wanted to hug his sister, she wasn’t having any of it.

So how to diffuse this parental conundrum?

Do we scold my daughter and console my son? Explain that her brother was only being nice and kind, all the attributes we constantly ask the kids to be? Explain that hugs are nice things and if he wants to give one to her then she should acquiesce and let him?

Or do we explain to my son that if she doesn’t want a hug then he has no right to give her a hug?

I’ll be entirely honest, my initial reaction was the former. I picked my daughter up and told her to stop Thunderbrowing.

My wife, ever the wiser and more aware parent, seized the opportunity to begin the kids education on consent.

“Son, if she doesn’t want to cuddle you, she doesn’t HAVE to cuddle you. She has her own personal space. If she wants to give you a hug, AND you also want to hug, then that is cool. If not, then you have to respect that. Try giving her a high five instead.”

Son holds up his hand for a high five.

Daughter thunderbrows even more intensely and leaves him hanging.

“She doesn’t love me!”

He wails, now even more personally offended and probably a little embarrassed to have put his emotions out there and been rebuked.


my wife continued,

“it’s not that she doesn’t love you. Sometimes we can want to hug, sometimes we can just not be in the mood. Sometimes you can previously have hugged but today you don’t want to hug. Either way, if someone doesn’t want to have a hug then you can’t force them.”

It’s not something we’ve had reason to discuss before, but it comes hot on the heels of a play date with a friend who remarked she was trying to get her son (also 4) to understand personal space.

It’s impossible to avoid these types of conversations with our kids, so I think it’s important to make the most of the opportunity, even if the children don’t realise how euphemistic you are being at the time.


In truth, this post isn’t about sex, it’s about teaching your kids that other people have agency over their own feelings and desires. Teaching them that just because you want or feel something, doesn’t mean that everyone shares that desire. Learning to accept and be at peace with that is a skill even some adults I know have failed to master.

I often see headlines and outrage about the age that kids are, or are not, receiving sex education and teaching about consent. In no way am I ready to have “the talk” with my kids, nor would they have the first clue what I was talking about. However, hopefully, if we continue to take these opportunities to teach our kids about respect now, that will lay positive foundations for them to apply these lessons when the time comes.

Because if you have respect, then we shouldn’t need to talk about consent.

 The illustrations are originals by @Paulcarlonillustration on Instagram.

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