One of the most common questions parents ask is: “What should my children know about sexuality, and at what age should they know it?” Answering children’s questions about sex is one of the responsibilities many parents dread the most, but is also an important aspect of parenting. Otherwise confident parents often feel tongue-tied and awkward when it comes to talking about sex to their children.
Childhood is a period of utter ‘innocence’, but for adults ‘sex’ is not so innocent a subject. Most parents go to almost an absurd extent to keep anything and everything, even remotely connected to sex, as unreachable and as far away and hidden from children as possible.
In the course of fostering and bringing up our children, we tend to prohibit certain behaviors or conduct of our children. A little child’s innocent delight in his/her own natural nudity is one such act that makes parents uneasy. A child’s curious discovery of his/her own body is another such act. Any attention that a child devotes to exploring different body parts that parents consider ‘private’, often promptly invites a harsh admonishment. This is not to say that parents should allow the child to romp around naked all the time or not teach him/her correct etiquette and manners. This is simply to say that parents must restrain the immediate tone of outrage and taboo that they tend to adopt.
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Children learn an enormous amount about affection, the human body, communication and relationships from their first year of life.
It is extremely important to help children feel comfortable about their sexuality from the very beginning. This will prepare them and make it easier for them to ask any question about sex without inhibitions throughout their lives. As they grow, parents and teachers can give them correct and useful information to help them make healthy and responsible decisions about their sexuality.This will help them grow into sensitive and affectionate adults, who will be able to initiate and sustain warm and loving relationships.
When exactly do children start becoming curious about sex?
Children are human beings and therefore sexual beings. All human beings are ‘normally’ sexual. From the very infancy children have a curiosity about their own bodies, which is absolutely normal and healthy. It is difficult for parents to acknowledge this, just as it is hard for children to think of their parents as sexually active.
When is the best time to start educating children about sex
It is best to start as soon as children begin getting sexual messages. And they start getting them as soon as they are born. But do not worry if you have not started yet. It is never too late. Just do not try to ‘catch up’ all at once.The most important thing is to be open and available whenever a child wants to talk.
Children’s queries related to their own body and sex are utterly out of curiosity and a pure sense of wonder. They have not yet learnt to attach any sense of ‘secrecy’ and ‘privacy’ to these matters.
Young children often touch themselves when they are naked, such as in the bathtub or while being wiped and diapered. They have no modesty at this stage of their development. It is their parent’s reaction that tells them whether their actions are acceptable or not. Children should never be berated or made to feel ashamed of being interested in their own bodies. While some parents may choose to casually ignore self-touching, others may choose to acknowledge that, while they know it feels good, it is a private matter. Parents can simply make it clear to children that they expect the child to keep that activity strictly ‘private’.
By the time a child is three years of age, parents must choose to use the correct anatomical words for all body parts including the genitals. They may sound clinical, but there is no reason why the proper label should not be used when the child is capable of saying it. The words—penis, vagina—should be stated matter-of-factly, with no implied awkwardness. That way, the child learns to use them in a direct manner, without embarrassment. Using awkward infantile terms for body parts or body functions only serves to make children think of these as ‘bad’ or ‘disgusting’ and something to hide behind such words.
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Children between three to six years of age are most trusting of their parents. They hero-worship their fathers and adore their mothers. Their parent’s word is ‘law’ for them. Most of the times, what children really want is to know that they are normal. We can help them understand that it is ‘normal’ for everyone to be different. In fact, the most important lesson we can share with our children is just that: Being different is normal. This helps them grow into adults who are comfortable in their own skin and have wholesome and mature personalities.
Learning about touch
There is information that is more apt for children at particular ages – teaching children about good touch and bad touch For instance, a five-year-old child should know the correct names for his/her body parts, including the genitals, and that his/her genitalia is a ‘private’ part, which should never be touched by anyone. It is necessary to tell them that their body is their own and that they have the right to privacy, and that if anyone ever touches them in a way that feels strange and unusual, s/he should tell that person to stop it and then tell you about it, even if the person is a close relative, neighbour, teacher or even a doctor. Such training at an early age can help to prevent sexual abuse, which is widespread in the society today.
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Invariably parents are concerned that telling children too much, too soon will harm them in some manner, or will provoke and encourage them to become sexually active early in their life. It is necessary to understand that education and information do not encourage children to be sexually active prematurely. On the contrary, children make better decisions about sex when there are no restrictions on what they can ask and talk about at home and when they have all the necessary information they need. This helps prevent possible sexual abuse, incest and [sexual harassment at work as they are empowered to stop it, freely talk about it and report it immediately.