Posted Mar 31, 2011, updated Mar 31, 2011.
School-aged children are learning new things all the time. Sometimes it is hard to keep up with them! Many parents dread teaching their child about sexuality because it can be an embarrassing and confusing topic. But talking increases the likelihood that your children will share your values.
Most experts agree that children do not learn about sexuality in just one day. Children explore their own bodies from the time they are infants to see what things look like and how they work. By around age three, many children inspect other people’s bodies, show interest in bathroom functions, and ask about body parts and where babies come from.
By the time they reach school age, children may touch their genitals when they are going to sleep or when they are anxious. They may talk about sexual behaviors with others and engage in show-and-tell games with their friends.
It is helpful for parents to understand what is normal. The booklet “Understanding Children’s Sexual Behaviors: What’s Natural and Healthy,” is a good introduction to children’s sexuality. Ordering information can be found in the resources section below.
Parents should begin talking with their children about sexuality at a very early age in an age-sensitive way. Many experts say that talking with a parent of the same sex is easier, but that is not necessary in most cases. Single parents should not be afraid to have these conversations with a child of the opposite sex. Sex is such a common topic in the media these days; parents may think they don’t need to talk about this sensitive topic with their children. It is important that they do though. Just watching programs with objectionable sexual content without making comments can lead children to believe that parents condone what they see. Researchers say that kids who can talk with a parent about sex are less likely to get involved in high-risk behavior when they are teenagers.
When parents talk to their children about sex, they:
• Protect them. By the time they reach kindergarten, children should understand that no one should touch them in their bathing-suit areas unless they are providing health care or cleaning them. When children are taken advantage of, it is often because they haven’t been taught that their private parts are their own. Help them understand the basics about sexuality that are appropriate for their age, especially when it comes to protecting themselves.
• Give them the right information. Sexual information that comes from the media or their friends is often incomplete and sometimes just plain wrong. Parents are a child’s best source of information. • Help them understand what is normal and acceptable. For example, fondling themselves may feel good, but they must learn that this is a private behavior. It is also normal to be curious about other people’s bodies, but it is not acceptable to stare at them or touch them when they have said “no.”
• Let them know you are available. Make sure your children know that you want them to tell you when they have questions or hard decisions to make.
The national Talk With Your Kids Campaign recommends the following.
First, explore your own attitudes about sexuality. Where did they come from? Have they changed? Be prepared to talk about your values.
Start talking to your child early. You probably talked about body parts and how they worked when your children were toddlers. If not, start now. Don’t wait for your kids to bring the topic up, but follow their lead to learn how much they are ready to know.
Give accurate, age-appropriate information. Some helpful resources are listed below.
Be sure to talk about the emotional aspects of sexuality. Teach them about relationships, caring, and commitment.
Prepare them for the next stage of their sexual development. That way, it won’t cause anxiety or come as a surprise. For example, experts recommend teaching eight-year-old girls about menstruation.
Relax. As we adults know, sex has been a part of human life in every time and culture. Once you break the ice, talking about the topic will get easier. And the payoff is worth it!
Questions and Answers about Sex
Understanding Children’s Sexual Behaviors: What’s Natural and Healthy by Toni Cavanagh Johnson, 2010 . Available for $2.50 at www.TCavJohn.com or at 626-799-4522.
It's So Amazing!: A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families by Robie Harris and Michael Emberly, 2004.
Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They'd Ask): The Secrets to Surviving Your Child's Sexual Development from Birth to the Teens by Justin Richardson and Mark Schuster, 2004.
Ten Talks Parents Must Have with Their Children About Sex and Character by Pepper Schwartz and Dominic Capello, 2000.
Register to rate articles and leave comments.
© Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
University of Illinois Extension