Ask Valentine: Talking to Your Child About Sex Part 1
This is the first in a 5 part series on Kids and Sex. I wrote it with Pascal Mwita who is a psychologist, father of 4 children, and the founder of the Amuka Pilgrimage, a psycho-spiritual centre that gives tools and skills for better living.
Sexuality of course has a physiological component, but we will also be talking about sexual cultural norms and its psychological impact. We will break the series into 5 parts beginning with 0-5 years of age and ending with late adolescence and early adulthood. Don’t miss part 2 (6-11yrs), part 3 (early teens), part 4 (teens) and part 5 (FAQs).
What are they thinking?
Pascal Mwita says: children below 5 begin to explore their bodies. Babies are getting a lot of non-verbal information at this point as to what is pleasurable and what isn’t. Your reaction to their pleasure even at these early stages will be important. By two years, children are beginning to develop a positive or negative attitude about their bodies. How does it feel to be touched? Is touch a positive or negative experience? Do people look at me and smile or frown? Am I loved or not? Is it ok to touch some parts of my body and not others? They take in both verbal and non-verbal cues.
What you might see:
Children start to experience genital pleasure by two years old. They touch their bodies, and find that it is pleasurable to touch their own genitals. This is easier to see in boys but girls are by no means far behind and by 5, your child has probably learned to masturbate. For parents this is often a difficult time, and it is vital that you teach what is appropriate behaviour in public and in private. Masturbation is obviously private.
In the early years, children are at a very concrete level. They are very interested in organising and naming body parts. As language develops, children need a vocabulary to deal with all body parts if they are going to be able to communicate their needs. Just like it is important that a child know, and can point to their knee or wrist when it hurts, it is also important that a child can name their sexual body parts because of sickness, injury, or abuse.
Over the first five years, children develop a strong sense of identity about what it means to be a boy or a girl – colours associated with different genders, games, hairstyles etc. They also become very interested in how things work and they will ask “Where did I come from?” Pascal suggests answering the question in a straight forward, honest, age-appropriate manner. Check in with your child after a short answer to see if you have answered the question. It might be that “you came from mommy’s stomach” is all they want right now. But soon they will want to know more and they should know that parents are available and reliable sources.
Years ago I had a friend with an adorable 2 –year-old daughter and she could recite all the names of her body parts. When you asked her what her nipples were called, she couldn’t say nipples but had named them ‘ninnies’, and if you pointed at her groin she crossed her legs demurely and said ‘my private business’. I thought her reaction showed ownership, ease and that someone was paying attention to what and how she was learning.
What we know and teach will change over the course of your child’s development so the point is not to get everything right but to foster an environment that allows for communication.
Do you have questions? Please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
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