There's No Place Like Home for Sex Education: 4th Grade
Talk to Me - Please!
You're not the only one who's been noticing your 4th grader's growth and development. S/he has too—often with more concern and embarrassment than pleasure. In fact, there have been quite a few experiences lately that are … well … just different. Like … attraction to peers in more than just a friendship way; and classroom teasing about boyfriends and girlfriends. Things are definitely changing. And s/he's not at all sure how s/he feels about it.While exciting, the "newness" is also scary. Yet this is a time of such privacy and shyness about change that children often hold their fears of "Is this normal?" and "Am I normal?" deep within.
Your 4th grader is conscious of the impending onset of puberty (that's right, mom and dad … it won't be long now!). Whether s/he's started to develop yet or not, it's likely s/he has friends or classmates who have. In fact, girls may begin developing as early as grade 3 or 4; boys usually a few years later.
In any case, parents need to anticipate this, and prepare their children in advance. This helps ease the countless anxieties and questions which are certainly there—although often unspoken.
If your family has a history of open, honest communication about sexual issues, your child may likely check in with you about these anxieties and questions. If not, well … don't worry. It's not too late. But do begin now. Already your child has gathered a wealth of sexual information (and misinformation) from a number of other sources: friends, TV, music, the Internet, magazines … you want to get your 2¢ worth in.
The approach to puberty offers an ideal opportunity for discussion … but don't limit the topic to physical growth and development. Children want—and need—to hear their parents' thoughts, feelings, and values around a variety of sexual issues. They want—and need—factual information, reassurance, guidance, and support. If you find it difficult or awkward to initiate such discussions, here are a few tips to assist you:
- Let your child in on how it was for you as a 4th grader. Share feelings, concerns, and experiences you remember having while growing up.
- Take advantage of the useful publications available for preadolescents. Leave them on the coffee table, in the family room, or somewhere your 4th grader is likely to stumble upon them.
- Use TV, movies, and other media to begin a discussion about sexuality. Let your children know how you feel about sexual messages delivered by the media. Ask about their impressions.
- Call attention to newspaper articles dealing with issues linked to sexuality: HIV/AIDS, rape, infertility treatment, teen pregnancy, sexual abuse … these are but a few topics noted daily in the headlines.
Open family communication about sex does far more than just ease the journey through the growing up years. It allows for the sharing of family values; the provision of accurate—and valuable—information; the promotion of a positive, respectful attitude toward sexuality; the alleviation of fears and anxieties; the building of trust, understanding, and support.
If you've already established these lines of communication within your family, great! Keep up the good work! If not, begin today. You and your child have everything to gain.
Reprinted with the permission of Advocates for Youth.
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