young girl and boy, how to teach gender equality at home, DEI resources for parentsWe need to teach consent to girls while they're still young and life's more, um, mature issues haven't taken over their brains yet.

The best way to teach consent to young girls is to explain boundaries using an example from their world. The goal is to help girls develop their own conclusions about consent now, so they can remember what it means later in life. 

Explain Boundaries Using Visual Examples

Start by using a visual example of boundaries. Something from her world that she's familiar with and can picture in her mind.  

For example, if she's into horses, you could connect the concept of 'boundaries' to the fences that contain horses to their pasture. Or you could apply the same concept to lane lines if she's into swimming, or map borders if she's into geography, or lines on the page if she's into drawing. You get the idea.​ 

If you give her a 'visual example' of a healthy boundary from her world, she'll feel much more in control of the learning process. The goal!

Use Subtle Teaching Methods for Explaining Boundaries

conversation breadcrumbs, how to teach gender equality at home, DEI resources for parents

Do this next. Leave a trail of breadcrumbs (verbal hints) about boundaries that she can follow so she can form her own conclusions. She'll be able to take what you tell her and apply it to concepts that her own brain can process. 

In other words, if she hears you say "horses," "boundaries," and "fences," she can start visualizing how fences keep the horses from wandering into places they don't belong. Then she can form her own conclusions about what boundaries mean.

TIP: The idea of leaving a 'trail of breadcrumbs' (verbal hints) can be applied to just about anything you want to teach effectively. Kids (and most adults too for that matter!) learn most efficiently when they feel like they've arrived at a concept on their own instead of believing something because that's what they've been told to believe. If you leave a trail of breadcrumbs that leads them to discover a concept with their own reasoning skills, the lesson learned will be much more enduring. 

By helping her make a mental connection between 'boundaries' and 'don't belong,' you'll have, subtly, guided her toward feeling ownership of boundaries. And as the years unfold, and "owning" her values becomes more and more important,  the easier it will be easier for her to apply the concept of boundaries to more mature situations.

Connect Boundaries with Self Protection

Once you feel like your daughter has a solid understanding of boundaries, it's a good time to connect boundaries with protecting herself.

Because she's still young, learning how to protect herself doesn't need to mean anything sexual. It can refer to protecting herself from people who say mean things or from people who do things that make her feel uncomfortable.

It could even be something as simple as eating a new food that she doesn't want to try or wearing something she doesn't want to.

There's a fine line here though. You don't want her to feel scared of everything or hesitant to try anything new, but you do want her to learn how to use boundaries to protect herself.

Here are some words you could use to explain boundaries without making her feel like she needs to be on high-alert all the time:

  • "Some people are never fun to be around. They do or say mean things that make you feel bad. That’s when it’s okay to put up your invisible boundary. But make sure you take it down after they're gone. Otherwise, it could become a habit to always have your invisible boundary up."
  • "You and you alone are in control of the invisible boundary around you. You are completely in charge either putting it up or taking it down."
  • "We can’t control other people. But we can control how close those people get to us."
  • "It's always best to respect other people. But the most important person you need to respect is yourself. And one of the best ways to do that is to put up your invisible boundary when you feel unsafe."
  • "Sometimes you have to be your own best friend and protect yourself from other people who don't know how to be respectful and kind."

Any combination of the suggested words above will help her make a mental connection between boundaries and being her own best friend.

Continue Your Conversations

The ideas in this article are not meant to be communicated in a single, formal, sit-down, dictatorial conversation. Instead, try to casually insert ideas about boundaries into random life events and conversations. Let her absorb and organize the information at her own pace.

As your daughter gets older and misogyny becomes a bigger issue, boundaries can and probably will apply to more mature subjects. But you'll have already left a trail of important breadcrumbs that she can follow on her own and form the crucial conclusion that she alone is in charge of her own boundaries.

Be proud of that!

More Resources:

If you found this article helpful, please check out How to Teach Girls They're Just as Worthy as Boys. It's a concise guidebook that's full of more suggestions for boosting girls' confidence, including instructions for shaping household routines (including chores), leading girls to discover their passion in life, and finding appropriate role models. 
DEI for Parents
Tagged: Gender Equality