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There's No Place Like Home for Sex Education: 1st Grade (page 3)

By — Advocates For Youth
Updated on Oct 8, 2010

Cry "Foul!"

The 1st grader may often use an obscenity without having the vaguest idea of its meaning. Past experience has proven the word to be an attention getter. Maybe that's all s/he wants. Or, s/he may be curious about the term, but unsure how to ask for permission to discuss it.

Either way, by calmly defining the word, parents neutralize its shock value, provide accurate information, and reaffirm their willingness to discuss sexual issues. A parent could say, for example: "That word is a mean way of saying _____. It's often intended to be hurtful. Please find other words to say what you're feeling."

If a child uses bad language out of anger, frustration, etc., it's helpful to let her know that while the emotion is perfectly acceptable, the language is not. Then assist her in finding alternate words to express her feelings.

Finally, parents might want to monitor their own vocabulary. "Do as I say, not as I do" has little impact. Model the behaviors you wish to encourage.

But What If …

Many parents admit to avoiding discussion of sexual issues with their children. With great relief, they'll seize any opportunity to get off the hook, assuming that somewhere along the line, kids will learn what they need to know.

Its likely that these very same parents truly want to be involved a their children's sexuality education … yet feel ill-prepared to do so. Fear, confusion, and embarrassment are just a few barriers that often get in the way. Let's see if the way can be smoothed a bit by addressing some of the concerns parents have expressed:

  • I'm worried that giving my child too much sexual information will stimulate curiosity and encourage him to experiment. This is related to the fear of telling too much, too soon. The fact is, a child's interest in sexual issues needs no encouragement. That natural curiosity is alive and well from birth! When efforts to learn about sexuality are ignored, denied—or worse yet, punished—children may become preoccupied with the subject, and more compelled to experiment.
  • But she's only in 1st grade. Isn't that too young? For lengthy, graphic detail? Of course. Your explanations can be simple, clear, and factual. At the same time, leave the door open for further discussion. Remember, now is the time to establish the foundation for open communication … an environment in which your child knows it is safe and appropriate to ask questions or voice opinions. Remember too that every day your 1st grader hears a great deal about sexuality … from friends … from the media … S/he certainly deserves to hear it from you.
  • I don't want to frighten or confuse my child. Parents often voice this concern specific to topics such as sexual abuse, childbirth, etc. Truly, the bottom line is that children are more concerned and confused when they only have bits and pieces of information… or misinformation. It leaves much to their imagination, which can fabricate some rather frightening details. Know that by 1st grade, your child has heard something about sexual abuse, childbirth, etc., even if s/he has not heard it from you. It's best to introduce such topics, discuss them calmly and openly, and allow your child to express any concerns or questions.
  • I'm not sure I have my facts straight. That can be the least of your worries. If you don't know the answer, say so. Then offer to look it up. Better yet, suggest that the two of you go to the library, and look it up together.

    In addition to providing factual information, many excellent resources offer help in the "how to" department. Check with your local Planned Parenthood, public health department or private physician.

Unfortunately, children are hearing the most about sex from friends and the media. Surely parents do not prefer this. When offered information, skills, assurance, and support, parents can embrace their role as family sex educators with confidence!

It's All About Self-Concept

It's hard to believe that first grade is almost over. What a milestone for your youngster: a full year of real school just about completed.

Along with accomplishments, perhaps your first grader has also experienced some failure and frustration. How has s/he fared? As a whole, has the year been a joyful experience? A positive introduction to the academic world?

And just what does any of this have to do with sex education? Plenty. It's all about self-concept.

You see, research tells us that the sexual decisions and behaviors of adolescents are influenced by their level of self-esteem. High self-esteem correlates with an increased likelihood that choices will be positive, healthy, and responsible.

It is during the early years that children begin developing a sense of their "OK-ness." The formulation of self-esteem during the pre-school years is based largely on input from the family. If Steven is constantly told he's a "bad boy," he'll soon define himself as such—and act accordingly. If, however, his parents emphasize that it is his behavior which is unacceptable (not Steven himself), he maintains his personal sense of "OK-ness" and self-respect.

Upon entering the educational system, a child is exposed to pressures, demands, and expectations that reach beyond the home front. It becomes especially important for parents to reassure their child that a sense of worth comes from within—and is not a function of appearance, being a math whiz, or getting the lead in the class play.

As with all other aspects of growth and development, children need assistance in feeling competent, connected, and valued. Through their childrearing practices, parents either foster or stifle that development.

Approval—Children have a special need for praise. For them, parents' approval is a measure of their own value. Frequently recognize and praise your youngster for a job well done or a good effort.

Acceptance—While recognizing your child's strengths and abilities, assist him in accepting his weaknesses. If he acts inappropriately, be sure he understands that while you do not like the behavior, you still love him.

Attention—By demonstrating sincere interest in your child's day to day activities, you let her know she is important. Having mom's and dad's undivided attention—however brief—helps a child feel very special indeed.

Achievement—Children learn by doing … and need opportunities to practice new skills. Allowing them to make decisions will encourage a sense of competence and responsibility.

RespectChildren are people too, and they deserve to be treated fairly—with dignity and respect.

All of this may seem so obvious. Yet it's amazing how much good, common-sense parenting gets lost in the daily bustle of family life. Consider this simply a reminder.

The way children feel about themselves colors the way they live and relate to the world around them. Children who grow up feeling loved, competent, and worthy are far better equipped—as adolescents and adults—to deal with the issues of life … including sexuality.

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