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Ask Your Child for Consent Before Changing Diapers, Expert Says

Photograph by Twenty20

A sexuality educator's recommendation on how to teach babies consent has drawn criticism from many parents. This week, Deanne Carson appeared in a segment about consent laws on Australia's ABC news network and included a suggestion that parents start asking for consent as early as possible.

Carson, who is an author and co-founder of Body Safety Australia (a group that educates children, their families and professionals about sexual abuse), said that even from birth, parents could "set up a culture of consent in their homes." For example, one could say, "I'm going to change your nappy now, is that OK?"

"Of course, a baby is not going to respond, 'Yes, Mom, that's awesome, I'd love to have my nappy changed,'" Carson noted. "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."

In a radio segment with ABC, Carson also said that "consent is something that should be active and ongoing." This can change from how parents talk to their young children versus older children, such as teaching younger children to say no to hugs they don't want and re-examining language like "don't take no for an answer" and "you deserve this" with older kids.

But parents are saying her diaper suggestion takes consent too far. How can you tell what's consent when your baby gets extra squirmy during changes? What if a child doesn't want their diaper changed? The controversial Sky News Australia’s "Outsiders" show also ridiculed the advice as "leftie lunacy."

Carson stood by her words. On her Facebook page (which has since been removed), she reminded people why she does what she does:

"One in three girls, one in seven boys will be sexually assaulted by the time they are 18 years old. One in 12 girls will be sexually abused before their sixth birthday. The work we do with children, teachers and parents is international best practice in abuse prevention," she wrote. "Troll me all you want, add to your blog inches, but remember that when you do, you are negating the voices of these brave survivors of sexual abuse."

Some defended her, saying the speaker's words were misconstrued.

"She's simply making the very reasonable case for establishing a 'culture of consent,'" Katie Russell, a spokesperson for the nonprofit sexual violence organization Rape Crisis England and Wales, told Newsweek. "This is about both getting parents and carers into positive habits of not assuming consent from their children and about teaching children that they have a right to decide what happens to their bodies."

The nonprofit West Australian Child Safety Services also issued a statement backing Carson.

"Most child care workers will tell you that it is standard practice to talk with a child and let them know that you are going to change their nappy—even a newborn infant. This is part of creating a culture of safety; letting a child (even a baby) know what you are doing to their body and why you are doing it," the organization wrote.

But how do you make sure your kids get the care they need while balancing consent? What if your kids don't want to brush their teeth or take their medicine?

WACSS advises that carers should ensure the child is healthy and safe, but also "provide as much choice and control as possible." So, let them choose their own toothbrush, ask them if they want the medicine in a syringe or spoon, and also explain why an action is happening while emphasizing that the action isn't a secret.

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