Consent and the Holidays: 5 Ways to Practice
Updated: Dec 27, 2022
The holidays are a great time to practice your consent skills and model what you’ve learned! We see friends and relatives that we haven’t seen for a while and all kinds of wonderful reunions mean hugs and kisses, holding hands and cuddles. Often this touch is more than welcome, but sometimes it is endured. We’ve all experienced both.
Most of us really don’t want to cause a big confrontation at festive gatherings, and we’ll compromise a lot to keep from rocking the boat. Here are 5 low key ways to practice and model our consent skills during the holidays without starting a fight.
1. Let children decide when and how they want to touch you. They’re more than capable of choosing how much touch they want and from who. If a small child is being told by parents or others to give you a hug and a kiss, let them know that they have a choice. Say something like, “I’d rather have a hug when they feel like giving me one. I believe in kids deciding when and who they want to touch.”
2. Practice reading body language. Most of us have given a consensual hug, but then found ourselves held tightly for far longer than we’re comfortable. When you hug someone, see if you can notice the moment when they begin to let go and are done with the hug. If someone is not getting your bodily cues that you’re done with a hug, simply say, “Thanks, I’m done now.”
3. Ask for touch. If someone comes rushing at you with arms held wide, clearly you don’t need to ask. But whenever it’s less clear, ask. “Would you like a hug?” “How about a cuddle on the couch?” But don’t ask children for touch, or anyone else who might not feel empowered to say no if they want to. Big power differentials between people often prevents authentic consent from being expressed. You can also frame your request in a way that makes others feel more comfortable to say what they truly want. For instance, you can preface your request with, “Only if you really want to, would you…?” or you could say “I’m really curious whether you would like to…?”
4. Pay attention to how people respond when you ask for touch. Are they hesitant? Are they silent? Any response that isn’t enthusiastic is a no, and this is another opportunity for you to make it clear that you only want consensual touch. You could say something like, “No pressure, I’m only interested if you really are too.”
5. Thank people when they say no! This is so fun, and will definitely make an impression. People who have been retaliated against or punished for their entire lives for saying no will be speechless the first time someone thanks them for saying no. You can say things like, “Thanks for being clear about what you want.” or “Thanks for letting me know what you need.” or “Thanks for taking care of yourself.” Try it, and see what happens. This also gives you something positive to say in the face of rejection, and feels much better than an awkward silence.
In our book, Creating Consent Culture: A Handbook for Educators, we talk about the basic skills of consent and how to teach and practice them. To learn more about practicing consent skills, or to find out more about the workshop or the book, come learn more at my website, www.creatingconsentculture.com.
Order the book here!