Guest Feature Jewish Values Parenting

How a Haircut Can Teach Consent to Children (Guest Feature by ScaryMommy)

ScaryMommy is one of my personal fav sites for slightly snarky but very honest and practical parenting perspectives and advice.  Of course, I’m honored when they publish my work and grateful that my work and ideas are able to reach a larger audience.

You can teach consent at home, school, or synagogue all day and in many ways.

I posted this clip on social media a few years ago- and it had many (positive) reactions- and not just ‘shares’- but people actually reached out to discuss and inquire about this interaction.

It did not seem all that remarkable to us- adorable, for sure- but not particularly out of the ordinary.

I learned that teaching consent and practicing it – especially with very young children- is something that just didn’t occur to many of the wonderful, dedicated, progressive parents of even very recent generations.

Good news is that teaching consent is a critical but uncomplicated concept.

Read on to learn more about how, where, and why you can teach consent- even during a seemingly mundane chore like getting a haircut.

Haircuts Are A Perfect Opportunity To Teach Children About Consent !

This article was originally published by ScaryMommy here.

I took my 4-year old to get her hair cut recently and we both had a bizarre experience.

A few chairs away from us, a girl about my daughter’s age was weeping as her parent directed the stylist (who was trying to soothe the girl, promising that it wouldn’t hurt) regarding the length and style the parent wanted.

As I buckled my girl’s car seat to head home, she had questions (she has a LOT of them these days, a characteristic of being a 4 year old):

Why didn’t that girl get to choose her hair cut?

Why didn’t they wait until she could catch her breath and stop crying?

Momma, why did they keep going after she said stop?

I told her I didn’t know, and that different families make different choices (also a phrase I repeat most days). There are certainly circumstances in which haircuts can be difficult and stressful, especially for people with sensory sensitivities — and I try hard to reign in my own disposition to judgement because it isn’t one I want to pass on to my kid, so we did not dwell on it. Days later, I’m still feeling uncomfortable about the lesson she gleaned from watching that — which motivated this ascension to soapbox to highlight what a simple trip to the salon can teach our kids about how our world works.

When my kid climbed into the chair, the stylist asked me how I wanted her hair to be cut. I redirected the question to my kid. The stylist showed me with her fingers where she planned on cutting it and asked if it was OK. Again, I asked her to show and ask my kid. While the stylist was washing her hair, my kid made a face I didn’t recognize and the stylist asked her if the water was OK. When my kid didn’t answer, I asked they stylist to pause (she was finishing up rinsing shampoo out) and said a phrase I repeat most days:

“Please use words to tell us how you want your body to be treated. We want to understand because it is your body and your choice.”

Heads swiveled. I know salons can be judge-y places, but these weren’t glaring eyes — maybe confused or interested. It felt like we were doing something “weird,” though it is definitely our normal.

My daughter said, “Stop. I don’t like it.” And the stylist replied, “OK, I can just do a leave-in conditioner, then.” (Kudos to her, she had been paying attention.)

There is no part of me that thinks for a moment the parent with that crying kid in the chair wants anything but the best for that kid. I think I’m probably the one who’s the “weird parent.” But I believe (and act upon) the premise that every reasonable chance I can find to let my kids practice bodily autonomy is one step closer to a world in which people having respectful, consenting relationships with clear communication is the norm.

I don’t want to be the weird one, though.

PLEASE  join me in recognizing that actively seeking opportunities to allow kids (and people) to reflect on their personal preferences, articulate them, and have those requests cheerfully and respectfully honored.

I wasn’t always this way. I clearly remember the first time I asked a mom if I could hold her baby and she responded with “Ask her,” and it legitimately confused me. I have done significant learning, formal and informal, in the topic of fostering healthy relationships with young children that will support their ability to establish and maintain healthy relationships with others. Watching “respectful” or “progressive” parents and teachers (and humans) interact with kids (and humans) is a simple way to see that establishing a respectful dynamic built on a foundation of consent from infancy is not only possible, but desirable. It equips babies and toddlers to communicate more clearly, and us as caregivers to be careful observers of their earliest attempts to communicate — which yields significant impact, short and long term.

Teaching consent is not only critical for improving our society, but is pretty simple to do.

It was jarring to me that our experience at the salon drew the attention of onlookers but the screaming kid did not — sure, people were (hopefully) averting their eyes as to not make that parent feel awkward- but I got the feeling that child had a more common experience than mine.

While I know there is no authentic way to discern what is “normal” parenting, we know it evolves with time and knowledge.

I am hopeful that a new norm is on the horizon in which it is assumed that children have their own agency and are able to have and communicate preferences in the first years of their lives. Parents are now collectively aware that children need car seats and that babies should be placed to sleep on their backs on a flat surface without a blanket — two new norms that have emerged since I was a kid, and saved many lives since then.

I can’t predict the exact outcome of the impact of teaching and practicing navigating bodily autonomy and consent. However- I do know that it can create a generation of people who are more self-aware, confident, and articulate about asserting their own needs, who are accustomed to the process of responsive conversations.

I certainly want my children to be prepared to understand and navigate complicated questions about consent when they begin to explore their physical relationships of a more mature nature.

So we are practicing the strategies that will inform their ability to do so: at home, at the hair salon, and every place in between.

Teaching consent and bodily autonomy by practicing how we can request, give, deny, and change our minds about consent is a very conscious priority in our house.

Teaching consent looks and feels different at various ages, stages, and scenarios- when our babies were itty-bitty we narrated diaper changes and slowly explained how and why we we cleaned all their body parts while identifying them by anatomically correct names. We navigated through what felt like long periods of time when we had to remind ourselves to graciously accept when our hugs and cuddles were rebuffed by toddlers. Now, our very articulate four year old reminds her toddler sister to watch their baby sister’s face for cues to see if she likes the cuddles she is offered and tries to ask via baby sign if she wants ‘more’ or is ‘all done’ periodically during a tickle session.

I was thrilled when I had the opportunity to work with the fine folks at the Union for Reform Judaism to write a piece for their blog that reaches Jews from diverse communities all over the world about a Jewish aspect of the imperative to teach consent at home, synagogue and school.

(this is an excerpt from article published in full here)

As a parent and a Jewish educator, there are a few topics about which I am especially passionate – those where my knowledge as an educator align closely with my experience as a parent raising young children in today’s world. For example, a few that I take very seriously are my job to use car seats safely, to read to my kids every day, and to coach social-emotional skills because I know how much each of those things matter in raising healthy adults.

Our sage Maimonides teaches that the mitzvah (commandment) of shmirat haguf – literally, safeguarding one’s body – is a spiritual imperative. I want my kids’ bodies and their spirits to grow and to thrive. Thus, another lesson that I attend to with great care is the idea that all bodies merit autonomy, and that communication about and consent for how (and if) we touch one another is an integral element of every relationship – starting with our young children. Read more…

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