It is really important that your child has a good understanding of the way the human body functions at a basic level.
Ah, the birds and the bees – that old chestnut.
You might be reading this thinking how on earth has the time come where this is even relevant to you. One minute you are seeing a line on a stick and the next you are preparing to tell your children about the daunting topic of sex
It is actually really important that our children have a good understanding of the way the human body functions at a basic level. It helps them to develop good hygiene habits from a young age. That is often where the conversation might begin. Even the act of explaining to a young child the correct way to clean themselves, and why it is important, is extremely daunting.
The fear is always there that you will say the wrong thing. That you will somehow give them a complex or that they will view their bodies, and the world, negatively as a result of the conversation.
The reality is that at some point you and your children will have a conversation about the birds and the bees. I know, we still don’t 100% know how the birds and the bees actually works either – but we’ve turned out OK with our understanding haven’t we?
So at what age should we approach the subject of sex education with our children? Too early and we may scar them for life. Too late and they may hear it from another source. It is really difficult to know when the time is appropriate.
Children often begin their sex and relationship education at school in 5th and 6th class. This means that their first experience of this topic is through a teacher and amongst their peers. There are many benefits to this as it is a safe place where they have a familiar sense of comfort and belonging.
It is also a neutral place that is away from the family home but with the safety of a trusted teacher and their friends by their side. In the same way, children may find themselves being a little bit shyer and exposed when hearing these things about their bodies in front of their friends.
You might be wondering where is a good place to start exploring this topic with your child? Should you be referring to their private parts with the biologically correct names so that they feel OK about hearing it during their relationship and sexual education at school? When should you discuss puberty
and give your child a heads up about those things? Should you sit down and have a big talk about where babies come from? It is a minefield.
According to psychologists, it is a good idea to refer to your child’s genitals with their correct names from the time your child is about two years of age. Giving them a different name may somehow imply that there is something shameful or wrong about calling them by their real name. It is also important to remember that from aged 0-3 your it is normal for your baby to be very interested in their genitals during bath time or nappy changes. Let them naturally explore their anatomy and try not to make it a “thing”.
Children aged from about three to five may ask questions about pregnancy if someone in their life is pregnant. Use this as an opportunity for learning but without overloading your child with information. Keep it light. This is also the age where children should be told, very clearly, that no other person should touch their private parts unless it is a doctor or nurse accompanied by a parent.
Between ages six and eight, it is a good idea to continue to answer your child’s questions openly. Picking up a couple of books with age-appropriate learning about the human body can be really effective. Some include drawings of girls and boys’ anatomy and it is important for your child to know that there is a difference and that it is completely normal. This is the age where we must continue to emphasise the importance of protecting themselves and always speaking to a parent or close family member if they are uncomfortable about anything that has been said or suggested to them about their own body.
From ages eight to 12,children really begin to explore the idea of relationships and sexuality. They may begin to react to romantic scenes in books and movies. We can help them see that affection as an adult is normal in the midst of them finding it “gross”. It is also important to prepare them for puberty. For many children, puberty begins as early as eight or nine. Waiting for the school’s education on this topic might be too late. It may also go into a very small amount of detail and leave your child feeling insecure and anxious about what is to come (or what has already started happening). The most important thing at this age is to encourage an open door policy and to help our children see the difference between puberty and sex. There is no need to go into great detail about the specifics of sexual intercourse but the topic of wet dreams and private masturbation can be mentioned without any shame.
Tracey is a happy mammy to four-year-old Billy. She is a breastfeeder, gentle parent and has recently lost five stone so healthy family eating is her passion! You can find her at http://loveofliving.ie/ .