My eldest daughter is 3. I thought I wouldn’t have to worry about the topic of “sexuality” for another decade or so. Well, I was wrong…. As I recently learned in the workshop Raising Sexually Healthy Children, hosted by the Family Care Office, parents should begin talking to their kids about sexuality in the toddler stage, if not earlier. And, as it turns out, I have been.
For starters, I taught Nina the right names for her body parts. I didn’t know this, but apparently teaching your child to call her vagina by the word ‘vagina’ or his penis by the word ‘penis’ creates increased body awareness that might be protective against sexual abuse, or that will at least give kids the language to talk about abuse if it were to happen.
I also learned that it’s perfectly normal for little kids to touch themselves. It’s developmentally appropriate, and the way in which parents handle it can either foster a sense of shame or encourage healthy self-esteem. A neat part of the workshop was to be told ways to handle this, as well as other sexuality situations. The presenter, Tara Johnson from Peel Region Public Health, called it the “4-point plan” for talking about sexuality:
Step 1: Give the facts without metaphors. Not more than needed, but not less than is being asked.
Step 2: Communicate your values. That is, share what you believe in with regards to the topic.
Step 3: Explain the responsibilities the child has in relation to this topic — what you expect from him or her.
Step 4: Finally, encourage healthy self-esteem by treating your child with respect no matter what and encouraging them to ask you any questions that they may have.
What does this mean for me and my 3-year old? Well, it means that the next time I see her touching herself, instead of just asking time after time if she needs to go pee, I can say something like this: “I know touching yourself feels good, and that is okay for you to do. But it is something that we do in private, and not in front of others. If you want to touch yourself, please go to your bedroom to do it. You can always ask mommy any questions about this if you want.”
Not bad, eh? I especially liked the emphasis on presenting my values. I am quite liberal when it comes to this stuff, and those are the values I want to share with my kids, while still teaching them socially appropriate behaviour and body safety.
Exploring their bodies is one of the many stages children go through when developing their sexuality. Here is a nice chart that tells me what to expect as my kids get older. The Peel Region Public Health page also has a great list of 10 tips for helping your child grow up sexually healthy.
Along with naming the body parts correctly and using the four-point plan, my favourite tips are: using positive touch to give children feelings of closeness, comfort, and safety (by holding hands, hugging, and giving massages); teaching them to use assertive communication to express feelings, resist pressure, and protect themselves; and giving girls and boys the same respect and opportunities.
If you want some ideas of sexuality books you can read with your kids, here are some of Tara’s recommendations:
• Asking about Sex and Growing Up (Revised Edition) by Joanna Cole (for kids 4-8 years old)
• The Bare Naked Book by Kathy Stinson & Heather Collins (for kids 2-5 years old)
• How Babies are Made by Andrew Andry & Steven Schepp (for kids 3-8 years old)
• How You Were Born (Revised Edition) by Joanna Cole (for kids 5-9 years old)