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The other day I was at a field trip with my son’s grade three class. During the lunch break, I noticed a boy chasing a girl who was holding a hat, arms outstretched in front of her as she ran. The boy caught the girl and was pulling her back by the shirt.

I yelled at all of them to stop and to come over to talk to me.

My first question was to the boy, we will call him Boy A. I asked Boy A if it was his hat. He said no, it was another boy’s hat (we will call him Boy B) and the girls had taken it and were running around trying to keep it from him.

So I asked Boy B if this was a fun game. Was he enjoying this game of chasing the girls to get his hat back? Boy B said that he was not having fun. He did not want to play this game. He wanted his hat back.

So I explained to all the kids involved that you can’t take someone’s hat and make them chase you for it if they don’t want to play that game. If Boy B was fine with the game, and was having fun, that would be different. But he was not. And you have to look at your friends and listen to them to see if they want to be playing the game you are playing. If your friend tells you to stop what you are doing, then you stop.

This was real life example of how you can start teaching consent to children when they are very young. This was a great opportunity to explain that “no, means no” and you stop when someone says to stop. This situation had nothing to do with sex, and the children are only 8 or 9 years old, but it does have everything to do with consent. And I believe that if you start these lessons when the kids are very young, it will help to instill a belief in the importance of consent for situations in their futures where getting and giving consent will be super important.

What was also interesting to me in this situation is that if this had been going on in the playground, with one teacher on recess duty and 200 kids running around, I think there is a high likelihood that the teacher may not have taken the time to get to the bottom of exactly what was going on. Now I am not saying that all teachers would not have taken the time, but I have seen a number of examples when teachers did not investigate, they just reacted to what they saw. And what they would have seen is Boy A, who should not really have even been involved because it was not his hat, was pulling the shirt of the girl. And Boy A would have gotten in trouble for that.

When really, although children should be reminded to keep their hands to themselves, Boy A was actually jumping into the situation to protect and help Boy B. In this situation, Boy B is more of a mild-mannered, gentle kid. He would not be one to get into any confrontation with the other kids. And Boy A, who stepped in to help, is someone who will not step down from a fight – and who quite often gets involved to stick up for anyone who is getting picked on.

And this is a sensitive situation because you do not want to discourage Boy A from helping those kids that are getting picked on. You want to nourish his instinct to get involved and make things right. You want to reward him for not being a bystander and letting bad things happen to kids. This was not the most serious of things that could happen to Boy B – he was only having his hat kept away from him – but if it were something more serious, you would want Boy A to step in and get involved. You would want him to know that doing the right thing, either by speaking up or physically getting involved if necessary, will be rewarded, not punished.

We need to encourage more children to pay attention to a situation like this and have the empathy to take notice of how Boy B is feeling about having his hat kept form him. There are so many other games that the kids could be playing that do not single out one child and make him feel upset or uncomfortable.

That is our job as the adults in the lives of these kids – to notice when a situation is not right, discuss it with the kids, and then talk about options for something else that they could play that would include everyone and not make anyone feel bad. We are in charge of helping them build the empathy, kindness, and community engagement that will allow them to be the best World-Changing Kid that they can be and do great things that will make the world a better place.

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For 75 Acts of Kindness that will help you teach your children empathy, kindness and community engagement, check out our book, “Plant a Garden of Kindness, A Child’s Guide to Filling a Year with Weekly Acts of Kindness”. Click on “Buy our Book” in the upper right corner of our website for a list of fantastic Ottawa retail locations that sell our book, as well as instructions for online ordering.

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