I'M constantly asked how to tackle the conversation of consent and bodily autonomy with children and as a child psychologist and chief executive of Act for Kids, my answer always remains the same - start early and have these conversations often!
Ahead of Child Protection Week (September 5-11), we conducted research into Australian attitudes towards teaching consent, children's bodily autonomy and when we should be having these conversations with our kids.
Shockingly, the research reveals less than half (44 per cent) of parents, carers and grandparents have been open with their children about consent, despite 89 per cent of adults saying it is the parents' responsibility to educate them.
We found that there is a considerable lack of knowledge about why it is important to talk about consent, relationships, and body ownership with children in the first five years of their life.
More than half (56 per cent) of Australian adults believe school age is an appropriate age to start teaching children.
This raises serious concerns for children aged between 0-4 as they are most at-risk of abuse and neglect in Australia.
The concept of bodily autonomy continues to be misunderstood, with only 29 per cent of parents admitting penis and vagina are normal in their child's vocabulary.
While naming your child's private parts with a euphemism such as "pee pee" or "jay jay" is quite common and might make parents feel more comfortable, it can have detrimental effects if your child is inappropriately touched and isn't able to clearly articulate this to the adults in their life.
The early stages of a child's life are crucial for development and early education is key to empowering children to feel safe.
It's where they grow physically and emotionally, but also begin forming social connections and know when to seek help if they need it.
My best advice for parents is to start by educating yourself; digest as much information as you can and then decide what language and what conversations you think your children will respond best to given their ages.
This year's Child Protection Week theme is "Every Child In Every Community Needs a Fair Go".
At Act for Kids, we strongly believe every child deserves a fair go when it comes to protecting their own body.
We join other child advocates, including Chanel Contos, in calling for improved education for parents and mandated protective behaviours programs in schools to help keep Australia's future generations safe.
Dr Katrina Lines is chief executive of Act for Kids.