Teaching Young Children About Sex Both Verbally and Nonverbally

Answering children's questions about sex can be embarrassing and difficult for parents but there are ways to do it, both verbally and non-verbally.

During a child's early development and prior to puberty, there will be much curiosity about sex and where babies come from. It is important that parents are able to address these questions from children without embarrassing the child or making the child feel ashamed. Children often surprise grownups with questions they may not be ready to answer and it may create an uncomfortable situation, especially if it happens in public. Parents can learn to prepare themselves for these questions by anticipating ahead of time what might be coming.

Infancy

  The physical contact that infants receive from their parents and siblings gives them comfort and the brain learns to associate the tender touches and kisses with love. The foundation begins here.

The Toddler

  The very young child enjoys exploring his own body. This is very natural and he should never be scolded but only reminded that it is only to be done in private. Some children will stimulate themselves for comfort before falling asleep. Oftentimes it is done out of curiosity and the parent may want to use the opportunity to teach the child the proper names for his or her parts. It is also important to begin teaching the child the proper terminology for bodily functions, otherwise he may learn vulgar and potentially embarrassing terms from other sources.

   He is beginning to take notice of gender differences, so now is a good time to let him bathe with other children or watch a baby being diapered. His understanding will be limited but it is a good start because in another year or two his curiosity will increase.

The Three and four-Year-Old

  Children of this age love to be nude and feel no shame about it. They do, however, notice one another. A little girl may try to imitate her brother by attempting to urinate standing up. Children who grow up around animals may try to imitate them as well. They watch their parents and it is very important that the grownups cuddle and show affection to each other in front of the children.

  A trip to the zoo is a good idea at this age because it gives parents the opportunity to spend quality time with their children and allows the child to see gender differences in animals. If there are puppies or kittens in the neighborhood, it would be a positive experience for children to visit, providing of course that the animal is not aggressive due to maternal instincts.

  At age 3 or 4, some children become fascinated with breasts. Both boys and girls will sometimes check their own chests for development. Parents might tell the child that everyone has breasts but only mothers have milk in them to feed their babies. Allowing the child to watch an animal nurse its young is a good way of illustrating this. If live animals are not available, videos can be found on the internet.These should be viewed with a parent or another responsible grownup who can answer questions and offer explanations to the child as he watches.

  Young pre-school children will usually begin to ask where babies come from. In the past, it was a popular trend to tell youngsters that the stork brought babies or that the baby grew in the cabbage patch. This might be cute but in modern times with so much in-your-face media, it is better to avoid this. Tell children the truth but only enough to satisfy them. At this age, they usually don't want too much information.

  Parents should also begin to introduce information to preschoolers about good touches and bad touches. They are old enough to understand that their private parts should be kept covered in public and that they should not allow anyone other than parents or the doctor to touch them there. It is important that they know to tell a grownup if anyone tries to touch them inappropriately.

Kindergarten

  It is very normal for children of Kindergarten age to develop crushes, although not realistic ones. They will often dream about marrying their mother or father, or will fantasize about a teacher or even a cartoon character. Parents can help by explaining about how real families work and giving them some examples, then reassuring them that one day, he or she will grow up and meet someone to create their own family.

  Some children will masturbate which is normal and the parent should avoid drawing attention to it. It is harmless to the child. If it seems to be excessive, a parent might try to distract them rather than say something which might be embarrassing to the child or make them feel guilty. It is best to use a relaxed tone when speaking to him or her. If the child feels the parent is alarmed, they may feel ashamed.

Ages 6-10

  In elementary school, children will be exposed to inappropriate gestures, crude jokes and improper titles attached to body parts. Peer pressure is prevalent at this age and a child's behavior may sometimes disturb his parents. Boys especially enjoy parroting what they hear on TV or from adults around them even if they don't understand the meaning of it. Misinformation may leave a child frustrated or even frightened.

  According to the Mayo Clinic, parents should approach sex education openly and honestly to encourage trusting discussions in the future. Even if the child's questions seem funny, it is important not to laugh. They suggest that before answering the questions, ask the child what they already know about the subject. He or she may have heard something that is incorrect. It also is important to show the child that his thoughts and feelings matter.

  Because elementary school students are growing up, they pay attention to adult issues and may become concerned when they hear something they don't understand. Parents should stay ahead of the game and encourage their children to approach them for discussion. They should be ready to answer questions about menstruation, homosexuality, sexually transmitted diseases, rape and pregnancy. All of these subjects are discussed on the playground so parents need to be vigilant and informed in order to correct any misconceptions their child may have been told.

A good foundation leads to a better outcome

  Planned Parenthood states that teenagers who have good relationships with their parents are more discerning about sexual relationships and actually are more likely to delay sexual activity. Encouraging them to be open and ask questions when they are very young will help them continue to be comfortable with it as teens. Knowledge is the best tool that parents can give their children to help them make the right decisions and avoid life altering mistakes.

References:

Talking to Your Children about Sex by Edna Lehman

Planned Parenthood

Mayo Clinic

The Better Health Channel

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Marilyn Eisele
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