So recently I’ve read a couple of articles on how to raise feminist boys.
The basic principles are sound and consistent and not rocket science; modelling equality, allowing a full range of emotions, encouraging freedom in how boys play, especially around dress up and let’s pretend.
In the world of Teletubbies, we were forever defending the decision for Tinky Winky’s favourite toy to be a handbag - knowing as we did that little boys are as fascinated with their mother’s bags as little girls are, and that they very often liked to have a bag as a plaything - so, yes, it’s good to have that acknowledged now. Better late than never.
Another of the principles was to teach boys about consent from an early age, by giving them control over their own bodies by asking whether they want to be hugged or kissed. The thinking being that learning this lesson should mean that boys will grow up being equally considerate to others.
This too reminded of my days working for Anne Wood. It would infuriate her at social occasions when young children were passed round from adult to adult, or embraced regardless of whether or not they wanted to be. “We wouldn’t stand for it as adults, so why should we expect our children to tolerate that kind of behaviour? If people want something they can cuddle whenever they want, they should get a dog!”
It’s a valid point I think. How can we expect our youngsters to grow up sensitive to other’s personal space and understanding autonomy over one’s own physical being, if their earliest experiences have completely disregarded their right to choose who they allow to touch them, and how.
So let’s not take it for granted that children, of any gender, are fine with us picking them up, holding them close, kissing them or whatever. It may not always be necessary to verbalise the request for permission, but we should always pay careful attention to all the signals, to ensure that consent is there.
Here is another in my series of articles based on conversations with children, first published in Teach Early Years magazine. In each piece, I focus on one prominent theme. For this one, it’s ANXIETY. My thanks to editor Mark Hayhurst for allowing reproduction, and if you want to know more, details of this and their other magazines and resources are available at: https://www.teachwire.net
- Is there anything you find difficult to tell a grown-up?
- Yes. When mummy worries, it makes me worry too. (P - male)
Although this little boy answered my question by referring to his home situation rather than school, the emotion he was brave enough to share with me is universal. Young children are acutely aware of their grown-ups’ moods, and are quick to take responsibility for any upset in the status quo.
In the world of conference speaking, people often use the phrase ‘The Big Take Home’ or ‘The Big Take Away’, and almost any guide to public speaking will tell you that all presentations should have one. It’s a perfectly valid piece of advice and I always find it useful to decide on the main point I want people to leave with, even before I start writing a speech.