Honoring Children’s Rights in the Classroom

Children’s rights and the topic of consent has been something that has come to light lately. But, at its core, it begins as early as early childhood. The belief that children have a right to be safe, be valued, and have healthy, positive relationships starts with teaching this in the classroom. In this episode of The Preschool Podcast, we connect with one of HiMama’s Early Childhood Educators, Maddie Hutchison to discuss this topic, what it means to provide a safe and rights-focused classroom, how and why educators should discuss this often sensitive subject, and how educators can respect and honor children’s decisions….even if the decision the child makes is less than ideal.

How Can Educators Respect and Honor Children’s Rights in the Classroom?

Model Consent from Infancy. As educators and parents, we should focus on who the child is now rather than who they are becoming.

Respect Each Child as a Human Being. It’s easy as an educator to grab a child’s hand, pick up a small child to move them or, force a child to hug you. However, this is not respecting their bodily autonomy, privacy, or decisions. Just as you would with an adult, you should ask a child if they want to be hugged, picked up, moved, etc.

Use “Rights Respecting Language”. As an educator or parent, use questioning language such as “can I pick you up” rather than the typical narrative of “I’m an educator or, I’m your parent, I’m going to pick you up, you don’t have a choice.

Explain why You Need to Pick Up/Move a Child. For children who are not yet verbal, or are hard of hearing, it’s important to explain why you’re picking them up/moving them when it is absolutely necessary ie. to change their diaper, to keep them safe from danger etc.

How to Model Consent in a Busy Environment

Maddie empathizes that taking an extra 30-60 seconds to ask a child to change their diaper…times 9 other children may seem extremely time-consuming especially when lunch is getting cold or outdoor time is running over. However, she explains that every child deserves our respect and our time and if we were to put ourselves in their shoes, we likely wouldn’t want to be dragged somewhere if we were highly involved in a project or conversation..so neither would any child. As a rule of thumb, try to relate to the child and be on their level as much as possible. The importance of modeling consent and the impact that will have later on in our lives is so valuable and shouldn’t be sacrificed in our busy lives.

Children’s rights mean we honor children as human beings in their own right regardless of age. We are not viewing children as lesser than simply because they are younger or smaller. They deserve just as much as any adult in our lives to be treated with respect and taken into considerations for matters that affect them.

Maddie Hutchison, The Preschool Podcast

Maddie explains that. as a parent and educator, one of the most impactful and important things you can do is to advocate for your child(ren). If consent and children’s rights is something that other educators you work with or other family members and friends may not have thought about (or believe to be true), you should advocate for your child that they may not be comfortable giving hugs and kisses and cuddling, holding hands etc. If a family friend, relative or other educator becomes upset that they didn’t get a hug, as an adult you should state why it’s so important that their child’s needs and decisions should be respected and shouldn’t be a reflection of how much the child loves/cares about that person. Although it will be an uncomfortable growing pain it’s important to reinforce this early.

Maddie recommends connecting with Rosalia Rivera at Consent Parenting as a great resource to find out more about modeling consent and children’s rights. Want to get in touch with Maddie? Email her madeleine@himama.com to chat further!

Episode 270 Transcripts:

Maddie HUTCHINSON:

If they’re actively communicating their wants and needs, that is so, so amazing that they can do that for themselves. So, we definitely want to try and make sure that they feel proud of themselves for doing that and just speak on their behalf if they can’t speak for themselves.

Ron SPREEUWENBERG: 

Maddie, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!

HUTCHINSON:

Thank you, happy to be here!

SPREEUWENBERG: 

We are very happy to have on the show with us today Maddie Hutchinson. She is a part of the team at HiMama, which is really exciting. She works in our customer success team. She is also an early-childhood educator.

And we’re going to be talking to Maddie today about something that she’s very passionate about, which is children’s rights and modeling consent in early-childhood education. Really intrigued to dive into this with you, Maddie. Let’s start off, as we always do, learning a little bit about you. Tell our audience a bit about yourself and your experience in early-childhood education.

HUTCHINSON:

Yeah, so as you said, I currently work on the customer success management team at HiMama. But prior to HiMama, I was an early-childhood educator. So, I am a very early-childhood educator and I work mainly with infants and toddlers. I’ve worked supply in preschool and kindergarten a little bit, but my main experiences with those younger ages. As you said, I’m extremely passionate about early-childhood education. I believe so, so strongly that this is just one of the most important fields. I’m so lucky to be a part of it.

As I worked in the field and [as] a full-time educator for a few years, that’s kind of when my rose-colored glasses started to fade a little bit and I realized how challenging the job is, not only in the day-to-day demands and responsibilities of caring for young children, but also in the way that society views the field.

And the lack of respect and fair compensation is extremely draining on educators, especially in relation to the value of the work being done. So, that led me to go and complete my master’s in early-childhood so I could better equipped myself to be an ally and an advocate in the field.

While I was doing my master’s in early-childhood, I had a very deep dove into risk and resiliency in early-childhood education. And I also had the privilege of working with an amazing children’s rights professor who really opened my eyes to this world and this way of thinking and showing me how important children’s rights are. But not just how important they are, but how much we are actually failing to honor our children’s rights in society and in early-childhood education.

So, that’s when I became very, very engaged in this work. And while completing my master’s degree as well, I had the privilege of working with some colleagues on actually creating the first ever children’s rights workshop here in Canada with young children. And it was really amazing to get their insight and see how aware young children really are of their rights and how they experience them. So, I’m very excited to dove into this topic with you today.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

And let’s start with the basics. Can you tell us a bit more about what “children’s rights” means?

HUTCHINSON:

Yeah, absolutely. So, first and foremost, what I say is that “children’s rights” just means we honor children as human beings in their own right, regardless of age. We are not viewing children as lesser-than simply because they’re young, because they’re smaller. They deserve, just as much as any adult in our lives, to be treated with respect and taken into consideration for matters that affect them.

In a more detailed level, the term “children’s rights” does come directly from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child [UN CRC]. So, the UN CRC, to sum it up, is a document that was adopted near the end of 1989. So, it’s really not that new. And it is an actually legally binding international agreement that sets out the civil, political, economic, social, cultural rights of every single child.

And governments work together to make sure that these rights are being met for all children. And that’s actually really cool is, in 2011 a new protocol was added to the UN CRC, which actually allows children to go directly to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child if their rights are not being met, which gives them a lot of ownership and agency over their own rights.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Call and tell us a bit about children’s rights in the classroom. So, as educators, how can we be honoring children’s rights in the classroom every day?

HUTCHINSON:

So, children’s rights, and then also bringing in modeling consent from infancy because they really go hand-in-hand… when we honor children’s rights, what we’re doing is, we are honoring children for who they are now, at this moment, in their lives. And I think it’s very important to try and move away from the narrative of focusing on children [in terms of] who they are becoming and focus on who they are now and the strengths and capabilities and interests they have at this time in their lives.

So, when we honor children’s rights in the classroom, we are respecting them as individual human beings. We’re respecting their agency; their autonomy; their bodily autonomy as well; their sense of privacy, and just like we would with any other adult in our lives.

A really important way – one of the main ways – that we can bring children’s rights into the classroom is by using rights-respecting language. So, this can be anything from saying, “Can I pick you up?” As opposed to the dominant narrative, which is that, “I’m an educator. I’m someone who loves these children. I know they’re safe with me. And I just pick them up and I put them in their highchair or I just pick them up and I go change their diaper.”

But what we’re saying there is that, “Just because we’re in charge, we actually have a right over their body.” So, an important way that we can let children know that even people who love us do not have a right over our personal space, over our body. So, a very simple way that we can bring that into the classroom is by saying, “Can I pick you up? Can I put you in the high chair?”

And not to be misconstrued with saying to an infant… we’re not waiting for their consent to go change their diaper. Of course, that’s not realistic. But what we can do with those youngest of children is still just explain, “I’m going to pick you up and bring you to the bathroom and go change your diaper at the diaper change.” That’s a pretty intimate experience that this child’s having with you and their body.

So, explaining what we’re doing and why we’re doing it are really important ways to bring children’s rights and set the foundation for consent and bodily autonomy in the early-childhood classroom.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Oh, that’s really interesting. And just, I guess, taking a step back from that: Why is that so important, even that that really young age? And I think perhaps some of our audience here might understand some of this. But certainly a lot of parents, I’m sure, would not even understand this concept. So, why is it so important?

HUTCHINSON:

Yeah, that’s a really great question. And it’s so understandable because thinking of speaking to children through this lens is not a common way of thinking. And even as I was completing my early-childhood education degree, this was not something I was taught. I was very privileged to be able to study this in-depth during graduate school.

So, there’s absolutely no shame in not having thought this way when working with children. It’s just something that we can learn and try and do better with. But the importance of asking children for their consent before we pick them up, before we change their diapers, is that we’re letting them know that their voice matters and that they have absolutely every right to choose who they share their space and who they share their affection with.

It is setting the foundation for letting that child communicate their wants and needs safely. It’s setting the foundation that this child can trust their gut instinct. It teaches self-advocacy skills within them. And it just nurtures their sense of respect for other human beings, right from the earliest age.

So, as we know, between [the ages of] 1 and 3, a child’s brain is developing about 80%. So, it’s really not a time to treat children as though they don’t deserve this respect and understanding for their own personal space. It’s a time that is really quite immensely important to let children that they do not owe affection to anyone and they have a complete right over who they share their space and their body with and that we actually want to praise children for saying, “No, I don’t want to hug,” or, “My body,” because they’re advocating for themselves. And that’s a really important skill that we want to teach children.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

And I’m sure there’s some folks out there who might be sort of the naysayers who would argue that this is difficult, I guess, in order to use this in practice, whether that be at home or in the classroom when you’re trying to create order, for lack of a better explanation. And sort of asking children’s permission to do things is another step or another thing in the process. So, what would you sort of say to folks who might challenge this point of view, in terms of empowering the children and modeling consent?

HUTCHINSON:

Yeah, and that’s another really great question. What I always say just here… and as an educator who was in an infant room and a toddler room, I completely empathize that spending that extra minute or so saying, “Can I take your hand and bring you to the washroom to change your diaper,” while you might have two minutes left to get 10 diapers changed and lunch is already in the room and we have to get the beds out for nap. There is so much going on, so many competing demands and priorities.

I just think that one of those priorities to sacrifice is that lunch might start a little bit late. We’re not sacrificing the fact that this child deserves our respect and our time and deserves to feel safe in the classroom. When we just simply grab a child and bring them into the bathroom without asking them… I mean, we need to put ourselves in their shoes.

Like, think about if someone just came up to you and just started pulling you away somewhere when you were deep into some project you’re working on. You would probably be pretty upset by that. So, a rule of thumb is to just try and relate to the child on their level and how you would want to be treated.

But the importance of modeling consent and the impact that that’s going to have later on in their lives, I would just really emphasize the importance of that as that not being the piece that we’re sacrificing in our busy days.

As children grow up and we’re struggling so much with consent right now. And young girls, as they’re growing up needing to know that they have a right to say, “This is my body,” and letting young children know that it’s completely okay to express their emotions and there’s no shame in emotion setting that foundation from the earliest years is so, so vitally important.

So, I would just emphasize the importance of the impacts of consent and children’s rights in their early years. And hopefully when we start to understand how meaningful it is, it won’t be quite as challenging to bring it into our day-to-day. I do absolutely I understand that it’s not the easier route in the classroom. But it is a very vitally important way that we work with and respect children.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, and as you were talking through some of those points there, too, I was also wondering, for those folks who are thinking about this a little bit more pragmatically or practically in terms of the implications, I wonder if there’s also something around thinking about this in terms of an investment in that child, where if, let’s say, you take the other route of you just pull them away when they’re in the middle of something, there’s a good chance you’re going to have an upset child on your hands. And that that is going to take you a lot longer to manage and deal with than asking for that consent up-front.

And then having them increasing their confidence so that you can do that on an ongoing basis. And it’s a very respectful dialog and relationship going forward.

HUTCHINSON:

Yeah, absolutely. You really kind of hit the nail on the head there. Like, this is not the dominant narrative in the classroom. So, it’s absolutely going to be challenging, especially if it’s not something you really had to think about before.

But in regards to just setting that foundation and allowing children to develop those self advocacy skills and personal agency and ownership over their own space, it will benefit them so much and everyone: their peers that they grow up with and just society and the economy in general, as they grow up to be someone who can really actively, positively contribute and work in team settings and collaborate with people and just care genuinely about other people as they grow up. It is absolutely a worthwhile investment to help children develop that kind of sense of security in themselves from the earliest age.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

So, the more we talk about this, the more it strikes me as being crucially important to children’s development at a young age. How might you recommend that, as an early-childhood educator, in addition to modeling this behavior in your classroom, how else can you be advocating for children’s rights, whether that be with children themselves or with families or parents?

HUTCHINSON:

Yeah, that’s a tough one, as well. And what I just recommend is just advocate for your child. If you believe so strongly in children’s rights and modeling consent… and maybe that’s not something that an aunt and uncle or their grandparents in the family have thought about before, which makes sense. We want to just hug and kiss the children that we care about. And we love them so much, we want to show this affection.

But the child comes first, is what I would recommend to anyone who is actively working to bring this into their day-to-day. That child comes first. And if they want space or if they’re saying No to a hug, that child has every right to do so. And if an aunt or uncle or a grandparent or friend is upset, that’s not the child’s responsibility to care for that adult’s emotions. They’re only responsible for themselves.

And as parents and guardians, caregivers, we’re responsible for advocating for our child, especially if they’re communicating. If they’re actively communicating their wants and needs, that is so, so amazing that they can do that for themselves. So, we definitely want to try and make sure that they feel proud of themselves for doing that and just speak on their behalf if they can’t speak for themselves.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, it’s funny you mention grandparents because I was kind of thinking that it would be great if you could do a one-on-one session with my children’s grandparents at some point to introduce them to this concept. Maddie, anything else you’d like to share with the audience on this before we transition to wrapping up the Podcast today?

HUTCHINSON:

I think the very last thing that I’d like to share, and I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I always really do like to emphasize that this is a challenging paradigm shift in how you work with children, how you speak with children and how you’ve been engaging in activities and learning with your child.

So, I always like to emphasize that, even as I go through in saying, “We can simply say, Can I pick you up?” I do acknowledge that this is a challenging way of thinking. So, all I really hope that people can take from this, if it’s not something they’ve thought about before, is how we can just actively work on trying to bring this in and just do the best we can for the children that we care for in our lives.

And hopefully one day modeling content in early-childhood and honoring children’s rights in the classroom won’t be something that we’re fighting our family members to be doing and having to educate our colleagues to do. I hope it’ll all just become part of the norm with how we engage with children on a day-to-day basis because I think we will see a lot of improvements in how our children are then engaging in society as they grow up.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, absolutely. And I hope so, as well. And certainly, talking to you on this subject, it does strike me as one of those things that seems almost obvious once you talk about it. And also, again, reiterating just how important this is.

And yet to what you stated a bit previously, it’s not actually the most common way that we’re supporting our children, in terms of respecting their rights and modeling consent. So, hopefully we’ll see a lot of progress here for in the home, as well as in early-childhood education.

And Maddie, before we wrap up, anything you want to share with the audience in terms of resources for their own professional development, whether that be on this subject matter we’ve discussed today or anything else you think would be a good use of their time to check out?

HUTCHINSON:

Yes, absolutely. So, someone who I get a lot of my learning from, I found them through their Instagram account, but they’re absolutely online just on any web browser. It is called CONSENTparenting. It is led by Rosalia Rivera. And she provides not only resources, blogs, she also leads courses on CONSENTparenting. If you have Instagram, I highly recommend giving her a follow if it’s something you’re interested in. Or if you’re not on social media, you can absolutely go online and find her resources there, just at www.ConsentParenting.com.

She also sells clothing. So, you can buy t-shirts for your child or onesies, even, that say, “No hugs, kisses or tickles without my consent,” that I absolutely love. So, that’s a way that if you’re bringing this into your home and then working with your child on it for the first time, a onesie for your young child, is also a nice way for them to speak for those who can’t.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Cool, we’ll check it out. And if our audience wants to get in touch with you, Maddie, to learn more about this, where can they go to get in touch with you?

HUTCHINSON:

Yeah, absolutely, and I’m always happy to chat further about this topic. I can be reached directly at Madeleine@HiMama.com.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Awesome. Maddie, thank you so much for taking some time out of your day to chat with me on children’s rights and modeling consent. Such an important subject and really appreciate your passion and wisdom on this subject matter. And thanks for joining us on the Preschool Podcast!

HUTCHINSON:

My pleasure, thanks so much for having me!

Kiah Price

Kiah Price is a Social Media Specialist at HiMama. Prior to HiMama she was an Early Childhood Educator in a preschool classroom in Toronto. She is the Jill of all trades at HiMama from dipping her toes in Sales, Customer Success, Operations, and Marketing! She enjoys sweating through spin classes, hot yoga, and biking along the waterfront trails in Toronto. She loves traveling and trying new foods and wines across the globe- 29 countries and counting!

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