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Estimated reading: 11 minutes
  • Body autonomy is important at any age.
  • Consent is something you always ask for.
  • Changing your mind or not consenting to something is completely okay.
  • Learning how to set your boundaries is just as important as respecting other people’s boundaries.
  • Your personal boundaries are showing other people how to treat you.


Body autonomy is a concept that every single person, regardless of their age, should be aware of. It represents the control and the power of decision you have over your own body in any given circumstance. Body autonomy represents the choices you have in what you are doing with your body in any given situation. If you want your body autonomy to be respected and for you to respect the autonomy and wishes of the people around you, consensual behaviour is a topic that plays an important role. When asking/giving consent before physically and/or mentally engaging actions, we are creating a safer environment where everyone can express their needs. Setting boundaries teaches other people how to treat you and also shows how you are treating yourself. These boundaries can protect you and inform others on your physical and/or emotional capacity.

5.5.2. DEVELOPMENT OF THE TOPIC What is consent

According to McGuire (2021), what we are actually discussing when we talk about consent and consensual behaviour is as simple as respect. Whether it is respect towards another person and their choices or respect towards yourself and your own wishes, it all resumed to the power of decision over one’s own body, being connected with dignity, humanity, and personal autonomy. So, when is it important to start teaching children about consent and body autonomy?

Physiologists, such as Jean Piaget, concluded that children observe and categorise behavioural patterns before they even start to develop a sense of self. In other words, they absorb everything they see and hear around them and start categorising it into boxes that they can use in different social interactions. In today’s society, the two main consent conversations that are being discussed are represented by the sexual and social scripts of the normativity surrounding us (McGuire, 2021). We (parents, educators, children) heard and saw these behaviours so many times that we ended up normalising and adopting them, sometimes without even questioning if that was what would be best for us. It is as if we would be following a script. If we want to create a culture of consent, acknowledging the existence of a problematic pattern would be the first step of the process while practising new consensual behaviours that take us closer to the society we would like to live in, would be the second step.

Set an example by having clear boundaries and respecting them for yourself and with the people around you. Children pick up very quickly and seeing parents/educators having strong boundaries will offer them a sense of safety and importance of body autonomy. Asking for consent

Consent is clear, ongoing, coherent, and voluntary (Healthline Guide to consent). In order to avoid non-consensual behaviour, asking and giving consent are vital. But how can you ask for consent?

Regardless of the setting you are in and the age of the person you are interacting with, consent plays a valuable role in how the interaction will play out and how you will feel after it. Some ways of asking for consent are:

  • Asking directly:
    • Can I hug/kiss/touch you? (If the interaction refers to a physical action)
    • Can I talk to you about…? (If the interaction refers to a mentally engaging action)
  • Framing it as a question of preference:
    • What do you want to do?
    • Depending on what the person answers, you can keep asking questions until you reach a point where both of you feel comfortable with what is going on.

If you receive a ‘no’ for an answer, respect the person’s wishes and do not insist.

When answering ‘no’ to a question related to consent, you have no obligation to give any explanation or excuse, because consensual behaviour is a choice that you are allowed to express freely without any further explanations. This choice is valid at any age, and it plays a big role in the development of healthy social patterns and a sense of self-awareness and respect in children and young teenagers.

Being so immersed into the normative world that society created among us, sometimes we tend to forget that every person is different and therefore, they have different needs. Whether people are queer, neurodivergent, questioning, having a disability or having a different cultural background, it is important to remember that each and every one of us has been going through different experiences and might have different triggers or behaviours that they are not comfortable with. Assuming consent is not okay because we can never know what is going on in the mind of the person in front of us and what needs they might have unless we ask them directly.

Changing your mind after consenting to something is completely okay. You can change your mind at any point of any type of interaction and communicate it to the person/group of people you are with. As an example, if you agree to let a family member touch you on your arm or hug you and at some point, you start feeling uncomfortable with the touch, you can communicate it and change the situation. The whole point of consensual behaviour is that you feel comfortable during the interaction and that both your personal space and the space of the people you are interacting with is being respected. Boundary setting

Setting boundaries is what helps people navigate consent and different levels of interactions that they might be comfortable with. Boundaries can be set at an individual level as well as in any kind of relationship, regardless of if it is romantic, sexual, friendly, family relationship or any other type. They should be clearly communicated, asked for and most importantly, respected.

Boundaries can be related to time, social interactions, physically and mentally engaging interactions (Selva, 2018). For example, individual boundaries can look like this: “I like hugs from friends, but I am not comfortable hugging strangers” or “I need to spend an hour alone after having dinner with my family”. In a family context, it is important to keep in mind that every family member (both parents and children) might have different boundaries related to how they would like to interact with each other.

Advantages of having healthy boundaries include better mental and physical health, developing autonomy, developing identity, avoiding a burnout, and influencing others’ behaviour.


When walking into the classroom/the room where your students spend the break, you notice B & F having a conversation. You hear B asking F to take a step backward because they are getting too close physically. At first, you don’t give it too much importance, but you acknowledge that B expressed a boundary they wanted to have respected. After that, you hear F starting to make jokes and to mock B for asking for more physical space between them and you wait to see B’s reaction. B’s body language is showing how uncomfortable they are, and you can see them taking a step back to create the space that F was not giving. F insists on making jokes and on getting closer to B.

You decide to interrupt the interaction and go to B to tell them you would like to have a chat. What you can do in this situation is to have a talk with B to ask them how they are feeling and if they have any specific need that you can help with. Then, you could have a talk with F and explain to them why their behaviour was not appropriate and what consequences it had over B and their interaction. Try to avoid shaming or projecting guilt feelings, instead focus on the learning aspect.

It could be useful to then have a talk with the whole class on the meaning and importance of boundaries and how to set and mutually respect them.

This would show children the following things:

Firstly, that they have control over their own bodies and that they do not have to touch or talk to anyone that they do not feel comfortable with.

Secondly, it shows them that the emotions and intentions should be communicated if they might interfere with somebody’s personal boundaries.

It is important for children to have control over their own bodies because the choices they make within the school/family circle are also shaping the choices they will be making in different social circles. As it was mentioned before, children copy the patterns of adults by observing and absorbing the information related to their interactions and categorising that information in boxes. If you want children to be able to set boundaries in their future romantic/sexual/work-related, etc. relationships, you can start by talking to them about boundaries within the classroom context.


Taking the theoretical principles of Selva (2018), setting boundaries can be broken into four steps:

  • Identifying/Defining

The first step of the process is identifying your needs and the boundaries that will help you protect them.

  • Communicating

After being able to express your personal boundary in words, the second step is to share it with the people around you. If people do not know your boundaries, they cannot respect them and for that, it is important to always say what you need.

  • Staying simple

Staying simple is another principle that will help both you and the people interacting with you. You do not need to over explain or to excuse yourself. Just state your boundaries clearly.

  • Setting consequences

Last but not least, set consequences. Mention to people why this boundary is important to you and how it would affect your behaviour if it were not respected. You cannot control other people’s behaviour, but you can control how you react to it and setting a consequence is showing people that those boundaries are important to you and if they are not respected, your way of interacting with those people will adjust accordingly.

For example, let’s say you are not comfortable with physical touch. You mention that you do not want people to hug you when you meet a group of friends and that this is important to you because you need more personal space that day. You are stating your boundary (that you don’t want a hug/physical touch), you are explaining why (you need more personal space that day) and you say it from the beginning so that everyone is aware of it. If a person from the group still comes and hugs you or touches you when you stated that you are not comfortable with it, your response could be to take some distance from that person in order to avoid that kind of contact. In this case, taking distance from them would be the consequence you set in order to show them that you need your boundary to be respected.

It is important to know these four phases in order to be able to help the child in this regard.


McGuire, L. (2021). Creating Cultures of Consent: A Guide for Parents and Educators. In Google Books. Rowman & Littlefield. Retrieved from https://books.google.es/books?id=drAPEAAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=teaching+consent+in+schools&hl=en&sa=X&vTurned=2ahUKEwiRx621vbr5AhUJRBoKHXhLCUQQ6AF6BAgBEAI#v=onepage&q=teaching%20consent%20in%20schools&f=false.

Selva, J. (2018). How to Set Healthy Boundaries: 10 Examples + PDF Worksheets. PositivePsychology.com. Retrieved from https://positivepsychology.com/great-self-care-setting-healthy-boundaries/.

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