The Birds And Bees By Five:
Guidelines for talking to your children about sex
Dr. Amy Demner, LMHC
Licensed psychotherapist and sexologist
According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (NCPTP), 38 percent of teen studies said their parents were the biggest influence on their sexual behavior – more than friends, the media, teachers, siblings or religious groups. However, you do not want to wait until puberty to approach the topic of sexuality with your child. In actuality, you begin to non-verbally teach a child about their sexuality right from birth. How you change their diapers, clean their bodies, let them touch and explore, can all teach your child how to have a positive and pleasurable connection to their sexual selves.
This informative statistic supports the importance of starting the sex dialog, which includes discussions about love, relationships and values, with children as early as possible. In fact, by age five children should be able to use correct terms for all sexual body parts, including the reproductive organs, and be able to talk about them without a sense of "naughtiness".
Other understandings five-year-olds should have include:
- Where babies come from, including how they get "in" and "out"
- The physical differences between a man and a women
- Importance and pleasure of body ownership, while emphasizing that they have a right to say "no" to unwanted touch
Many parents, however, feel awkward talking about sex with such young children, particularly since their parents may not have talked to them at all about the topic. While it’s okay to feel uncomfortable, you do not want to convey this discomfort to your children as they may misinterpret this as a sign of shame about the topic. If they ask you a question that you are not prepared to answer or catches you off guard, it’s ok not to respond until you are better prepared. However, reassure your child that you will find the answer to the question and that you are glad that they asked.
Watch for teachable moments such as bath time. Just as other body parts are pointed out, so should the genitals. The process can be like a game. "Here is your head, your nose, your belly button, your penis (or vulva), your knees and your toes." Skipping over these parts may convey the message that parents are uncomfortable talking about these body parts. In addition, correct, versus cutesy, names should be used from the outset. Young children should learn the names of the visible parts such as, vulva versus vagina.
One of the most important benefits of this early honesty and openness about sex is the development of toddlers who feel pride and delight in their bodies. As a result, they will be less likely to tolerate inappropriate touching and can explain to others if this does occur.
Below are a few hints to assist parents through the process of child sex education.:
- Try to be open and matter of fact in all discussions with children.
- Find out what your child already knows, then correct any misinformation with true facts. Use the conversation as an opportunity to convey your family’s values, feelings and beliefs.
- Be approachable and positive when your child asks a question. "Thank you for coming to me about that," will teach your children to feel comfortable about coming to you in the future.
- Include in your discussions the joys of sexuality, the pleasure and pride of taking care of your body, while including that loving relationships and intimacy are special gifts of adult life.
- Talk about sexuality in casual, small doses. You don’t have to schedule "the talk".
- Listen to your children, as you may uncover misconceptions, beliefs or concerns, many of which may be hidden behind the words.
- Keep the link open at all times. Being available, empathetic, sensitive, good humored and truthful helps insure they will continue to seek information and viewpoints from you.
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