Toddler Talk: C is for Consent

In the age of #MeToo, Eleanor Morrison was tired of hearing stories about women not being treated with respect. A mother to a young son, she felt a tremendous responsibility to guide him on a different behavioral path from the one that has been normalized for previous generations of men. She desired for her son to grow up aware of his boundaries with others — boundaries with both his peers and the adults around him.

When she couldn’t find a children’s book on the market that covered the subject of consent for toddlers, she decided to write one herself. C is for Consent is an eye-opening book that normalizes the conversation with parents and sets a starting foundation for young people. And, in our own personal opinion, should be a must-read for every youth growing up in today’s society.

We recently had a chance to talk with Morrison about setting limits, how to talk to your kids about touches, and the importance of the word no.

What prompted you to create a children’s book about consent?

It sounds so trite, but children literally are our future. The way our culture approaches everything — including consent — years from now is not going to be decided by us, but by our kids. If we help shape them into the most thoughtful humans possible, things can only get better from here.

You made the character a young white boy, and his best friend a girl of color. In today’s world, where race is such a triggering point for many people, how did you choose the races of the book’s characters?

My child is white, and born with a penis. These two things mean he will experience significant privilege in his life, simply due to the historical structure of our society. I wanted to maximally engage him and other young boys like him with a protagonist that looked like them, because frankly, they likely will have outsized power to shift cultural norms as they age. That said, diversity is hugely important to me and was a significant focus of my previous professional life in academia and activism, so I chose to have basically every character that was not required to be white (by relation to the protagonist) be a person of color, as well as making his best friend a girl. There’s also a same-sex couple and a relative in a wheelchair, because diversity comes in many forms.

C is for Consent teaches kids that it’s okay to say no to hugs and kisses. Why is this important for children to realize at a young age?

As the American Academy of Pediatrics has pointed out, allowing children to refuse physical affection is an important part of their development. It allows them to understand physical boundaries, their feelings about touch, and that they should respect other people’s feelings in return. Think about the kind of message it sends to our children when we tell them to push past their discomfort and allow themselves to be touched or force themselves to give unwanted kisses — it’s something that well-meaning parents have been doing for years! I think we’re all collectively coming to the understanding that it’s time for a culture shift around body boundaries, and this is just one step in that direction.

It is crucial for parents to talk to their children about what kinds of touches are appropriate versus inappropriate. How does this book open that conversation?

I included a discussion section at the end of the book, and one question references appropriate versus inappropriate touch. I don’t go into specifics about what that is exactly, because I want the parents to be able to take their leadership role in deciding what they want to say and when. Obviously issues around preventing predatory behavior are connected to this subject of consent, but I didn’t want to focus on that too much because consent is so much bigger than that one important but narrow conversation. I just wanted parents to have that space to say what they want when they’re ready.

What do you want your son to grow up learning about consent?

I want him to understand that consent means permission, and that it’s never a given when it comes to other people’s bodies or his own. I want him to feel comfortable expressing his own boundaries and respecting the boundaries other people have, whether those boundaries are communicated explicitly or with nonverbal cues.

What do more adults need to know about being affectionate with children?

Kids are people, too! They should be allowed to have preferences around who touches them, just like any adult. Obviously there are times where safety is a concern, like preventing them from running out into traffic, but when it comes to non-urgent touch, kids need to feel a sense of ownership over their body and choices around touch. Do you want to hug everyone? Probably not. So why would you expect your kid to perform that behavior? Often it’s a matter of taking our own social comfort out of the equation — not pressuring the child to kiss a relative who expects it just because it’s easier to do than deal with another adult’s disappointment. What’s more important, that relative’s fleeting disappointment or helping build up your child’s sense of control over how they express and receive physical affection?

Where can we buy your book?

I’d love people to support their local shops as much as possible, but the book unfortunately isn’t widely distributed yet. Ask your local bookstore if they work with Ingram (a global book distributor), and if so, they can easily order the book for you as part of their regular operations. If that isn’t an option, there’s always Amazon. But again, I want to reiterate: try your local shop first!

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