What Dr. Seuss Can Teach Kids About Consent

It’s never too early to learn that “no” is a boundary, not a punishment.


Published:

When I was a child, my mom would on occasion make us kids a special breakfast of green eggs and ham. It magically merged worlds for me. The imaginary food from my book became a reality, right there on the table.

But a few decades later, as a preschool teacher, I read the beloved children’s story, Green Eggs and Ham, to a class of 15 wide-eyed and openhearted children, and began to feel a just a little uncomfortable. In the era of #MeToo, this story sounded less like a paean to trying new things and more like the script of coercion: If I keep asking, maybe you’ll change your mind and actually really like what I want you to do.

Would you, could you on a boat? Would you, could you, in a moat?

I would not, could not, on a boat. I would not, could not, in a moat.

I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam I Am!

Thinking about what we had read, my co-teacher and I looked at each other grimacing. Should we have reviewed the book before introducing it? We decided right then to use it for an impromptu lesson in setting and respecting one another’s boundaries.

It was as simple as tossing out some questions to the children and opening the circle to a group discussion: How might Sam I Am’s friend be feeling? Have you ever been asked to do something you did not want to do? What was that like? What are some words and clear signals we can use when we would like someone to stop what they are doing to us or to someone else? Let’s review those together.

They soaked it in: Finally someone was asking them about their real-life, day-to-day experiences of being human.

The goal of our common work as committed allies of children was clear: to normalize empathy, respect, and healthy boundaries over coercion and violence. Every book, every game, every interaction, really, can be understood as an opportunity to practice honoring the full humanity and the full dignity of those around us.

It always seems like a small miracle when children as young as 3 rise to the occasion and thoughtfully participate in complex conversations around topics such as persuasion versus coercion, respect versus indignity. But maybe it shouldn’t surprise us.

Children, as “minors” and “dependents,” have a lot to negotiate when it comes to having their needs met and rising to the rules and expectations set by adults. The survivors of childhood violence and coercion have been coming forward with the same story: Not all adults know how to be good allies.

Sometimes those grown-ups haven’t done the work of processing their own trauma and mistakenly off-load it onto the children in their lives. In doing so, they’ve perpetuated cycles of “power over” relationship dynamics, such as shame, punishment, and vindictive discipline, over “power with” practices, which include discussion, reflection, and teaching skills when mistakes are made. It’s this positive approach—if we can learn to draw from it—that helps the children as they grow into young adults and face more challenging and complex situations where consent is on the line.

Our classroom was a microcosm of society. Conflicts happened. Little Alicia, for instance, was having trouble asking for hugs from her friends. She’d come into the room and throw her arms around Little Sam.

Sam would push her away, she’d push back, and come at him again for a hug with greater force—even a choke grip. There’d be more pushing, and then crying. How to intervene? It’s not enough to tell children to “use their words,” because, and we often forget, children don’t have words to use or know how to use them effectively until they get to practice.

So in our class, we used the opportunity to give a quick lesson on how to ask for a hug, and how to say, “No, thank you” or “Yes, please,” while also helping children feel secure and supported that their “no” would be heard and honored, without any risk to themselves or to the relationship. “He said, ‘No, thank you,’ so now let’s give him room to pass by.”

And it applies to their relationship with us, too. We can model healthy consent by removing any shame and humiliation when we tell children no. It’s a boundary, not a punishment. That way, we show that removing consent from an action does not mean removing our love.

Similarly as child allies, we offer children the option to tell us no (when it’s not a matter of safety) when, for example, we would like a hug and the child isn’t up for one. We invite them to share effective words and let them practice respectful boundaries, not just with other children, but with us.

To support and work with children to share values that we see severely lacking in society, we have to put ourselves in their shoes, to find them where they are, facing social and emotional challenges, and really see the world through their eyes. To really see them.

“We’ve all been children once,” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote, “but few of us remember it.” Remembering what it was like to be a child is not a call to maudlin sentimentality. It’s about remembering, as much and as far back as possible, what life was like: what frustrated us, held us back, or harmed us, so that we do not repeat the same patterns of behavior. What did we need then that we can offer the children in our lives now?

Stephanie Van Hook wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Stephanie is executive director of the Metta Center for Nonviolence and author of Gandhi Searches for Truth: A Practical Biography for Children. Follow her on Twitter.

This article was republished from YES! Magazine.

See also:
Want To Prevent Sexual Harassment And Assault? Start By Teaching Kids
Why Boys Need To Have Conversations About Emotional Intimacy In Classrooms

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

November 18, 2019

The new week starts off under a waning Leo Moon. We’re entering a harvesting phase of the lunar cycle. An afternoon lunar square to retrograde Mercury is today’s sole exact alignment. The Winged Messenger is stationary in Scorpio, preparing to resume…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

November 2019

“Bringing Energy into Matter” Learn basics of Tachyon, Zero Point Energy and Quantum Physics Tachyonized products and healing tools for purchase Participate in a seeing...

Cost: Free (preregistration is required)

Where:
The Sanctuary for Celestial Empowerment
10 Grassmere Avenue
Suite #300
West Hartford, CT  06110
View map »


Sponsor: Psychotherapy Healing Services, LLC
Telephone: 860-798-6176
Contact Name: Celeste E. Mattingly, LCSW
Website »

More information

Beaver Moon: Herbs for Aches and Pains Using Anti-Inflammatory Herbs. Refreshments served. To RSVP contact herbalist Rachel Ross, RN CNM. Visit our Facebook page for the latest...

Where:
Hillside Herbals
Jefferson, MA


Telephone: (508) 847-8615
Website »

More information

Come shine with us! Join us in harmony and in our goal to bring the light of Spiritualism forward to all those who are searching.

Where:
VFW Post 2597
775 Boston Rd, Rt 3A
Billerica, MA
View map »


Sponsor: The Spiritualist Fellowship Church Of New England
Website »

More information

A beautiful collection of messages from Jeshua Ben Joseph (Jesus) that will transform your life, as it did his. Coming together to study these teachings, to ponder, to savor, to deepen our...

Cost: $25 per class

Where:
Heart and Soul Holistic Healing Center
130 Massapoag Avenue
Sharon, MA  02067
View map »


Sponsor: Heart and Soul Holistic
Telephone: 781-258-9942
Contact Name: Barbara Ann Strassman
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Give Yourself the gift of Reiki this holiday season! Have you always wanted to learn Reiki but didn’t want to commit to a full day workshop?  This is the class for you! Reiki...

Cost: $175

Where:
Center for Inner Wellness
26B Main street
Chester, MA  01011
View map »


Sponsor: Center for Inner Wellness
Telephone: 413-315-1133
Contact Name: Maureen Suriner
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Are you considering, going through or recovering from divorce? Join us at our FREE Daytime Divorce Boot Camp, and we’ll help you get into shape! In response to requests from people who...

Cost: Free

Where:
Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation
180 Wells Avenue
Suite 300
Newton, MA  02459
View map »


Sponsor: Vesta: Redefining Divorce
Telephone: 508-744-6014
Contact Name: Deanna Coyle
Website »

More information

Atend a public hearing for S665 at the Massachusetts State House to protect holistic practitioners. This is the second bill that urgently needs your attention now. S665 will provide a safe...

Where:
Massachusetts State House
24 Beacon St
Rooms A1 and A2
Boston, MA  02133
View map »

More information

With Peyton Pugmire, spiritual intuitive and Certified Angel Card Reader Tuesdays, 9/24, 10/22, 11/19, 12/17, 6pm–8pm You are intuitive beyond belief. This is your soul’s...

Cost: $40

Where:
Creative Spirit
80 Washington Street
Marblehead, MA  01945
View map »


Telephone: 781-797-0389
Contact Name: Creative Spirit
Website »

More information

Give Yourself the gift of Reiki this holiday season! Have you always wanted to learn Reiki but didn’t want to commit to a full day workshop?  This is the class for you! Reiki...

Cost: $175

Where:
Center for Inner Wellness
26B Main street
Chester, MA  01011
View map »


Sponsor: Center for Inner Wellness
Telephone: 413-315-1133
Contact Name: Maureen Suriner
Website »

More information

Free Evidence-Based Holistic Health Education Program at Wilbraham Senior Center The H.E.A.R.T. Program® (Health Empowerment and Real Transformation), created and instructed by Michelle...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wilbraham Senior Center
45 Post Office Park, #4502
Wilbraham, MA  01095
View map »


Sponsor: Harmony Way
Telephone: 413-636-2475
Contact Name: Michelle Caron
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Give Yourself the gift of Reiki this holiday season! Have you always wanted to learn Reiki but didn’t want to commit to a full day workshop?  This is the class for you! Reiki...

Cost: $175

Where:
Center for Inner Wellness
26B Main street
Chester, MA  01011
View map »


Sponsor: Center for Inner Wellness
Telephone: 413-315-1133
Contact Name: Maureen Suriner
Website »

More information

The Fertility Awareness Meetup provides women with an opportunity to learn about and discuss natural birth control options and fertility. This is a space to connect with peers, access information,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cambridge Women's Center
46 Pleasant St
Cambridge, MA  02139
View map »


Sponsor: AC Fertility Awareness
Telephone: 617-899-7624
Contact Name: Anna Churchill

More information

The online dating scene can be exciting, overwhelming, and also annoying. However, it can truly be worth the hassle if you end up finding your ideal match! Just like Kerri did! Come to this...

Cost: $25

Where:
Awaken Holistic Counseling Services
2 Liberty St., Unit 2L
Newburyport, MA  01950
View map »


Sponsor: Awaken Holistic Counseling Services, LLC
Telephone: 978-255-7893
Contact Name: Kerri Morrison
Website »

More information

Broga® is an officially licensed brand of fitness infused yoga geared for men but open to all. With instructors around the world, Chuck was trained by the brands creator and went onto work as...

Cost: $20

Where:
SSFIT STudio
339 Boston Post Rd, Suite 6A
Sudury, MA  01776
View map »


Sponsor: SSFIT STUDIO
Telephone: 508-904-7171
Contact Name: Steven
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Come detox, relax and renew yourself for the fall in our sanctuary! We have an intimate gathering of great readers and healers providing services at sampler rates to enjoy their services while...

Cost: $60: 3 Pack Service Special; $25: Single Service

Where:
Healing Power Of Flowers—Heaven and Earth
68 Stiles Rd
Salem, NH  03079
View map »


Sponsor: The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
Telephone: 603-275-7688
Contact Name: Stacey Smith
Website »

More information

Dying to Be Me by Anita Moorjani (My journey from cancer, to near death, to true healing) In this truly inspirational memoir, Anita Moorjani relates how, after fighting cancer for almost four...

Cost: Free

Where:
Open Circle Acupuncture & Healing
411 West Main Street, Suite 2R (rear of building)
Northborough, MA  01532
View map »


Sponsor: Open Circle Acupuncture & Healing
Telephone: 508-393-1212
Contact Name: Kim Flaherty
Website »

More information

Give Yourself the gift of Reiki this holiday season! Have you always wanted to learn Reiki but didn’t want to commit to a full day workshop?  This is the class for you! Reiki...

Cost: $175

Where:
Center for Inner Wellness
26B Main street
Chester, MA  01011
View map »


Sponsor: Center for Inner Wellness
Telephone: 413-315-1133
Contact Name: Maureen Suriner
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Give Yourself the gift of Reiki this holiday season! Have you always wanted to learn Reiki but didn’t want to commit to a full day workshop?  This is the class for you! Reiki...

Cost: $175

Where:
Center for Inner Wellness
26B Main street
Chester, MA  01011
View map »


Sponsor: Center for Inner Wellness
Telephone: 413-315-1133
Contact Name: Maureen Suriner
Website »

More information

Four week series for girls ages 11 and up with Leigh Sloss This series of classes will focus on some of the most effective yoga and mindfulness skills for reducing stress and anxiety.  In a...

Cost: Series: $75; Drop in rate $20

Where:
YogaLife Institute of NH
6 Chestnut Street
Lower Level
Exeter, NH  03833
View map »


Sponsor: YogaLife Institute of NH
Contact Name: Alice Bentley
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Give Yourself the gift of Reiki this holiday season! Have you always wanted to learn Reiki but didn’t want to commit to a full day workshop?  This is the class for you! Reiki...

Cost: $175

Where:
Center for Inner Wellness
26B Main street
Chester, MA  01011
View map »


Sponsor: Center for Inner Wellness
Telephone: 413-315-1133
Contact Name: Maureen Suriner
Website »

More information

Learn to overcome spinal tensions through therapeutic postures, designed to decompress your spine and relieve pain. Taught by a certified yoga therapist, classes bring you through poses...

Cost: 5/$50

Where:
Bliss Through Yoga
484 Bedford St
East Bridgewater, MA  02333
View map »


Telephone: 508-331-3564
Contact Name: Janice O'Brien
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags