Children and Sexuality
Young children learn, grow and develop at an amazing rate in all areas. Parents and teachers are delighted in their growth with few exceptions—and sexual awareness seems to be one of them. Even though we know that children between the ages of 2 and 6 will become aware of genital differences between the sexes, develop curiosity about how babies are made, and explore their own and their friends’ bodies, many of us become very uncomfortable about it anyway.
Laying the foundation
During the early years, we are laying the foundation for future development. Parents need to clarify in their own minds what they want for their child in the area of sexuality. With these values clearly in mind, it is easier to respond to specific incidents in a way that promotes growth in those values. Values might include sexual enjoyment, freedom to express oneself sexually, health issues, responsibility for sexual behavior, respect for one’s body, respect for other people’s bodies, exploitation of sex and procreation.
Age-Appropriate Behavior and Responses
In addition, adults must consider the age of the child. Children will exhibit certain behavior and be able to understand information based on their age.
For example, children discover their genitals in much the same way they discover the rest of their body—with a great deal of touching. This will occur between one and two years of age and, because the touching is pleasurable, will likely continue or expand into masturbation. Touching of the genitals may also become a response to nervousness or boredom.
In most cases, touching or self-exploration in the first 2 or 3 years should be considered part of the process of learning about the body. The older child should be responded to in a way consistent with the family’s values. Developmentally appropriate responses range from ignoring the behavior to setting limits as to when and where the behavior is allowed, such as “I know that feels good, but playing with your penis is private. You need to do that in your room.”
Children’s natural curiosity will next lead to exploration of other children’s bodies. This “sex play” may be exploitive with an older child of 4 or 5 undressing and handling the genitals of a younger child or it may be mutual with children taking turns looking and touching. Either way, many adults are offended or upset when confronted with this behavior. It is important to remember that this behavior is normal and that the situation can be used to teach your values.
Reprinted with the permission of the California Childcare Health Program.
- Coats and Car Seats: A Lethal Combination?
- Kindergarten Sight Words List
- Child Development Theories
- Signs Your Child Might Have Asperger's Syndrome
- 10 Fun Activities for Children with Autism
- Why is Play Important? Social and Emotional Development, Physical Development, Creative Development
- The Homework Debate
- Social Cognitive Theory
- GED Math Practice Test 1
- First Grade Sight Words List