Children are naturally curious. They tend to ask about anything under the sun, which is why it is sometimes difficult for parents to answer their questions. However, it’s extremely important that no matter how hard those questions are, children should learn a thing or two. Among the many curiosities they have are about their bodies.
It’s normal for children to begin exploring their bodies by touching, poking, pulling, and rubbing their body parts out of curiosity. This is part of their growth and development. They need guidance in learning about these body parts and their functions. When the time comes that kids start to ask about their bodies, experts said that it’s the responsibility of parents to educate them. Failure to do so can negatively impact the kids.
Educating Kids About their Bodies
Kids need to learn about their bodies to avoid confusion or misunderstandings. Tanya Coakley, Ph.D., a professor at the University of North Carolina, said that talking to young children about their bodies and sexuality paves the way for an open communication as they get older. Conversing with them about this topic will positively influence children’s comfort with their bodies. “What’s essential is to have the lines of communication open, where it’s honest, nonjudgmental, and nurturing,” Dr. Coakley said.
According to Focus on the Family, the interest of kids about bodies and sexuality grows depending on their age. For instance, a child between ages 3 to 6 displays curiosity about sexual organs (his parents’ and his own) and how babies are born. They are likely to start exploring their own genitals. This curiosity will grow as they reach ages 6 to 10, which may lead to sexual exploration with peers and frank questions about sexual information.
During the ages of 10 to 14, children would notice and examine the physical changes in their bodies. Their sexuality is also forming at this phase alongside their interest in the opposite sex. Relationships begin to intensify as they reach the ages of 14 to 18. Teens often experience a great deal of insecurity in connection with their sexual identity, which can be worsened by heavy peer influence.
It’s important that children learn correct information about their bodies and their sexuality from parents instead of friends, movies, or television shows because they sometimes contain inappropriate information. Experts said that parents need to teach their kids not only the names of their private parts but also the boundaries that they and others must respect with regards to those parts. You won’t be able to communicate those boundaries if you have never talked about private parts in the family.
Parents should also make their children feel that they are trustworthy and capable of answering any question or addressing any problem they may have. Making them feel ashamed of asking will not do any good for a parent-child relationship. Saleema Noon, a sexual health educator in Vancouver and author of the book titled “Talk Sex Today: What Kids Need to Know and How Adults Can Teach Them,” children need to learn from a young age that sexual feelings are healthy.
“If they’re exploring their genitals, and they get the feeling from those around them that what they’re doing is bad or dirty, it’s going to impact them in a negative way, and they’re going to take that forward into their relationships,” Noon said.
According to The New York Times, an American newspaper based in New York City with worldwide influence and readership, it would also be helpful if parents use the correct words for body parts. For instance, instead of using the word ‘flower’, they should use the vagina. Children can learn human anatomy is a very educational way of the family they belong to talks about sexuality in age-appropriate ways at age-appropriate times.
Make the distinction also that it’s okay for kids to talk about private parts, but it must be done appropriately. Parents can tell them, “If you want/need to talk about private parts, talk to Mommy or Daddy privately or within our house but not in public.”
However, if they came in an unhealthy family system, well-intentioned questions tend to get suppressed. Experts said that this can drive kids to become involved in inappropriate sexual behavior in an attempt to gain information on their own. It can also lead to inappropriate experimentation such as a child exposed (even if by accident) to sexual experiences, images, or content.
Addressing Children’s Sexual Behaviors
When children are not properly taught about their bodies, they can develop inappropriate sexual behaviors as they grow up. This includes touching/masturbating genitals in public or private; looking at or touching a peer's or new sibling's genitals; showing genitals to peers; standing or sitting too close to someone, and trying to see peers or adults naked. Experts said that it’s important to look for warning signs that sexualized behavior might signal a more serious problem or may require professional intervention.
According to VeryWell Family, a modern resource that offers a realistic and friendly approach to pregnancy and parenting, one of the signs is when a child tries to convince another child to engage in sexual activity by making threats or using aggression. It can also be when they try to watch a sibling undress or imitate an adult sexual activity. If any of these happen, experts said that it’s time to set boundaries for them.
For instance, if a child is touching their genitals in public, Deborah Roffman, a human sexuality educator, said that parents can tell them: “I know that feels good to you. The body is good, and it brings good feelings. And if you look around, you’ll see people don’t touch their genitals around other people. But you can do that in your bedroom or the bathroom anytime you want” or “I know it’s fun to get naked, but in school, we keep our clothes on while we play.”
Kids need to learn what is appropriate and what is not to avoid touching others without their consent. Statistics show that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys experience child sexual abuse at some point in childhood. Parents can tell them: “Unless it’s for a reason we talked about, it’s not OK for an older person to touch your penis or vulva or mouth” or “If someone touches or looks at you in a way that doesn’t feel right, tell another adult right away.”