Let labeling come up naturally while dressing them or at bath time or as they make observations or ask questions.
Get yourself some great fun sex ed books for kids. You can help little ones know that men and boys have penis’ and girls and women have vulva’s. You can look for an opportunity to tell your preschool daughter that the hole between her legs is her vagina and the little button on the forward area of your vulva is called her clitoris. Help boys and girls understand the correlation between the head of the penis in boys and the clitoris in girls. You can look for a time to explain to your son that the sacs between his legs are the scrotum and inside are two special parts called testicles. There will also undoubtedly be a time when you can explain to your son why his penis sometimes is hard and sometimes is soft. I remember the bath time exclamation from my 3 year old son when he saw his erect penis and the explanation I gave. I remember saying to his concerned question, “Mama, will my penis always be this big?” “No, sweetie. As soon as you stop swimming on your tummy back and forth, it will probably go back to its normal size. But isn’t it wonderful that God gave boys penis’ that change size sometimes?”
As children move closer to 4 and 5 bath time is also a time for children to learn to care for and wash their own bodies. This is a time to address how you keep yourself clean, including your genitals. It is also a good time to introduce safety issues. For example saying something like, “Your body belongs to you. You are getting old enough now to wash it and care for it. No one should touch your genitals except a doctor or nurse or your parents for health reasons. If you are ever uncomfortable about touch, you should always let me or someone else safe know.” Here is my kids favorite book on the subject.
Likely sometime between 3 and 5 your child, who is now out of diapers, may develop the self-soothing behavior of touching their genitals.
This is not the same thing as adult masturbation. This is more like a pleasurable, calming, soothing activity. You will need to figure out how you want to handle this and how you want your child to feel about their body, so you respond in a way that helps their development and does not shame this normal response. Children need guidance however. I remember with my own children, affirming their wonderful bodies and how very nice they were to touch, but that when they wanted to touch their penis or vulva or clitoris, they were to do this in a private area like the bathroom, bathtub or their bedroom. For us this was the beginning of helping them understand the role of privacy and safety. You will have to decide what is right for your family. One thing to remember tho, when you are teaching kids about what is to be done in private … they often need lots of reminders. At this age, their self-soothing genital touching will often happen unconsciously. If you want them to do this activity in private, don’t be surprised if they need to be gently and compassionately reminded many times before they remember.
Being tactile, curious and observant, little boys and girls will often experiment with peeing in different places and different positions. I remember both of my children at this age following camping trips where they got to pee in the woods, thinking it would be fun to pee in the bushes at church! Who wants to come in and use the bathroom, when a bush is right there?? These are also the years where your child is likely to ask “Where did I come from?” or “How are babies made?” Ask them first, “What do you think?” or “Tell me what you already know.” This will help orient you to what they know, and more what they want from you. The books you have gotten will help guide you on age appropriate language. Basically you want to offer simple straight forward answers and then check in with them. For example, “Well, a sperm from a man and an egg from a woman are joined together. This is called fertilization. This begins a process of a baby growing inside a woman’s body. Is that a good enough answer, or would you like more detail?”
They are also very curious about other people’s bodies.
They will ask you lots of questions about yours and will likely explore sex play with a same age neighbor, sibling or cousin during these years. Because these curiosities are a normal way your child discovers and learns about their world and the people within it, it is important for the child to have adequate supervision. If children are playing with kids their same age and where the power differential is equal (neither much larger, or stronger, or a bully) – then this kind of learning and exploration will take its normal course and kids will have their questions answered through their explorations and your offering of information.
As you can see, there will be countless opportunities, nearly daily, to offer the beginning of body, gender, relationship and sex education to your child during these years. One final thing to add here. Enjoy these years and all the sex ed teaching! Here are a few more resources for you.
We have so much to re-learn from our kids during these years. They fully inhabit their bodies. They live in the here and now! They are sensually and emotionally present to their world. They are alive and they live out loud in no uncertain terms. This kind of full life, full body embodiment is something we lose in our self-conscious adolescent years and rarely get back. Let your preschooler teach you to inhabit your body again and embrace pleasure and joy … in all it’s messy, delicious, wild and colorful ways. See if you can inhabit your sexuality, your body, and your relationships in a new way during these years too!
Next week’s post will be on Sex Ed with 4 – 8 year olds … Stay Tuned
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