gave permission to discuss bodies and sexuality in the context of life and values. It also made perfect sense to them, and gave them a language for how to manage their bodies …THEIR BODIES. During this phase, kids want information and they want that information from you. Their life is now spent for much of the day away from home, at school, and there is a lot to manage and understand. They are looking to you to help them make sense of it all and help them develop the language and constructs to stand up and stand in to the world they are growing up within. Before we get into talking about guidelines for Sex Ed during these ages, let me first say that the developmental task of this stage is to begin to form a sense of identity and personal power. I call this the ‘Paper Bag Princess’ and ‘Batman’ Phase. This is when they begin to find their voice and their sense of who they are. They love to try things on … play dress up, learn to say NO! and push boundaries, learn responsibility and the ability to express affection and other emotions. Here are a few affirmations that are particularly helpful for a child between the ages of 4 and 8:
Ok … on to the guidelines for Sex Ed with the 4 – 8 year old kiddo:
They are still curious about their bodies and other people’s bodies
Children ages 4 to 8 continue to be very interested in bodies and sexuality. In one study of more than 11,000 children ages 2 to 12, moms reported observing sexual behaviors in their children at each of those ages. For example, 40% of boys and 20% of girls’ ages 6 – 9 were observed touching their genitals at home, 20% of boys and girls tried to look at people nude, and 14% were interested in the other gender. During this time, stronger friendships are being developed and most children begin to show a stronger preference to play with kids of their same gender. During this age they also become more aware of societally defined gender roles expressing a clearer idea about what is expected of boys and girls. They continue to engage in sex play with children in both genders, although they are much more likely to do it where they will not be discovered by adults. And in private, their exploration of their genitals may become more deliberate.
They are becoming moral creatures
These are critical years in the development of moral thinking. During early elementary school, children begin to understand that there may be other perspectives or ways to consider a situation. They also begin to understand the golden rule. This is a key developmental stage in foundational thinking for adult sexual health and the integration of moral and sexual development. This is another reason why engaging this conversation in an open and integrated way, is so helpful to kids at this age. You can introduce questions into a story you are reading or TV show you are watching. For example, “How do you think it felt for her to be treated that way?” “What else could she have done other than complain to her friends?” These kinds of conversations help children integrate moral thinking and decision making with their sexual and gender development.
They Need the Facts of Life
During these years kids get so much information from other kids on the playground, on the bus and in their classroom. And … it is often coming in some crude or confusing way. Perhaps some fifth grader comes up to her on the bus and asks point blank, “I bet you don’t know where babies come from!” “Well, let me tell you. Your parents f**k each other.” Then they go on to give their little rendition of the ‘birds and the bees’. What is most unfortunate, is that kids pick up on the tone and feeling of shame, and they never tell their parents about the incident. So not only do they lose out on the opportunity to get the real information, they lodge this unfortunately shameful experience into a dark inner vault now called “sex”. Because of this, I believe this is the best age to equip our children with the basic information about intercourse and reproduction. This allows a child to be able to say to this kid, “Yes, I know already.” During this age however, kids have often moved from ‘geographers’ (where) to ‘manufacturers’ (how), therefore they may not be satisfied with “the woman has an egg cell and a man has a sperm cell and when these two cells are joined …” They may now want to know all the ‘hows’ – including intercourse and in-vitro. For example, you can ask if they know ‘how’ this happens. If they don’t or offer another good idea, you can say,
Parent: “That’s a good guess. But what really happens is that when a grown man and grown woman love each other, there are many ways they enjoy touching each other and loving each other. All of these ways bring them lots of pleasure. Sometimes it feels pleasurable when the man and woman place the man’s penis inside the woman’s vagina. After a while, the man’s sperm come out of his body and travel up the woman’s vagina into her uterus, where an egg cell may be. Sometimes the sperm and the egg join inside the women and that is the beginning of the fetus that will grow into a baby.”
You can then wait to see what they say or do. If they say, “Oh that is disgusting!” or give that look, you can say, “I remember it was hard for me to believe that the first time I heard about it too. But as you grow up, it begins to make more sense. It is something that is for grown-ups who are old enough to love and care for each other, and care for any baby that might come from their loving each other in this special way. We have lots of time to talk about this more as you grow up.”
But no matter how they respond, the ‘go to’ guidelines are: affirm their feelings, give correct info, state your values, and keep the doors open for more conversation later.
At this age children can also learn the basic concepts behind contraception as well. For example, that all children deserve to be wanted, that some families have children and some do not, that some families are able to conceive and some are not, that some decide to have children and some do not. You can introduce the idea that there are ways you can keep the sperm and egg from fertilizing. You can also introduce the idea of in-vitro fertilization and adoption and how this is often a method of conception or having children for same-sex families or families who are unable to conceive.
It’s Going to Happen Anyway … Be Their Ally … Let it Come From You!
All of these issues will be part of their awareness in their school environment and someone WILL BRING THEM UP! It is always better for your child to hear about this FROM YOU who they trust and who they know has their best interest at heart.
Fundamentally, hearing all this from you first helps them know they can trust you to protect them to help them navigate their world. That is why kids who have parents who talk about these things as they grow up describe themselves as closer to their parents over all! Their parents have proven themselves to be trustworthy and not silent!
Next week … the last installment in this series … Sex Ed with 9 to 12 year old’s … Stay tuned!
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