The most commonly asked question about the healthy relationships programme, particularly regarding the primary school sessions is, ‘is it necessary’? The answer is yes, but not only is it essential the pupils are loving it! Children and young people are eager to learn about relationships and often surprised and excited to learn about their own rights, choices and responsibilities.
I am writing this on the back of a fantastic session with a year 2 group. The day started with a light hearted game using toys to challenge gender stereotypes and encourage equality and diversity. The pupils debated roles within the family and workplace and their rights to have choice, at the end of the game a female pupil stated, ‘sometimes people might be better at doing some things than you are, but being a girl or a boy doesn’t make you better’. Couldn’t have said it better myself! We continued to look at relationships and define who we are in relationships with and the fact that relationships and families all look different and that is OK.
Each child creates a safety hand with trusted adults on it, this may include family, teachers, NSPCC, police etc. but most importantly the child decides who goes on their hand. The class then creates a safety tree using the hands to make an image of the leaves. This school created the trunk out of paper mache on the wall, creating a real masterpiece out of the children’s work, which really validates the importance of the children’s voice in the classroom and acts as a reminder of their right to feel safe and where to get help. What I found interesting is that all the children knew how and who to call in the case of an emergency such as a fire, but no one knew who they could call if they felt unsafe, by the end of the class almost all knew the ChildLine number off by heart!
After the break, we put on a puppet show that looks at behaviours in relationships, putting our acting skills to the test and always received by lots of giggles. Then some more games, songs and dance to explore the themes of unsafe and safe touch and secrets. One boy told us, ‘I can’t say no, my mummy say’s its rude. I have to kiss my Grandma goodbye and I don’t like it. I love my grandma, but I don’t like kissing her’. The rippling sound of murmured agreement amongst his classmates was palpable, as twenty six confused faces looked up at us eager to hear how to manage this contradictory conundrum.
As parents we want to protect our children from harm and many of us will discuss unsafe touch, telling our children to tell us when something that worries them happens and that we will protect them.
But all too often we contradict ourselves, as we tell our children they must kiss Granny goodbye, for fear of hurting anyone’s feelings or being seen as rude, but are we considering our children’s feelings, rights and safety in the process? They have had the courage and trust in us, as their parent or carer to assert their concerns and sometimes we either don’t hear them or disregard them, confusing the boundaries of what is safe and unsafe and their right to say no. It is not rude to refuse to kiss someone goodbye. Do not get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with giving Granny or Grandad a kiss and a cuddle goodbye, if they want to, but it should be our child’s choice and if they say no, we should respect and communicate that for them. We encouraged the children to discuss their feelings with their parents or to speak to someone on their trusted adults hand if they are ever feeling unsure, unsafe or unheard.
The healthy relationships programme facilitates a conversation between peers, it is about encouraging an open, age appropriate exploration of relationships and fundamentally how we treat each other. It is giving children and young adults the language and knowledge to identify for themselves what is safe or unsafe, where their own personal boundaries sit and how to assert themselves and ask for help if they need it. It is about empowering our young people and having fun!