There's No Place Like Home for Sex Education: 3 Years
Sex Education??? My Child's Only 3 Years Old!
… well then, already s/he has received a wealth of messages about sexuality—three years worth, in fact. Just think about it:
- When infants are touched and cuddled, they learn that they are lovable.
- Choices of clothing (pink vs. blue), toys (dolls vs. trucks), playtime activities (tea party vs. baseball) all present messages about male/female roles and expectations.
- Seeing a brother, sister, or parent in the shower teaches about physical differences between males and females.
- A parent's willingness (or lack of) to respond openly and honestly to the question, "How did the baby come out?" conveys an attitude about the subject of sex.
The fact is, you have been educating your child about sex all along—through your words as well as through your silence; in your verbal and non-verbal communication. Your responses and reactions have taught your child a great deal about sexuality—not only in terms of information, but also in terms of your values and attitudes.
You cannot avoid being your child's primary and most important sex educator … nor would you want to. As a parent, you exert a most powerful influence over your child's sexual attitudes and development. The family experiences you shape, from the moment your child is born, help determine the extent to which s/he develops positive, healthy feelings about sexuality. Yet the thought that sex education begins at birth is, for many, a novel idea. The unsuspecting parent may allow several formative years to pass before the realization sets in: children—even very young children—deserve thoughtful, purposeful sexuality education. As parents more consciously attend to that education, they prepare their children to face the challenges—and sexual choices that lie ahead.
OK—When My Child Asks, Then We'll Talk
… but will you recognize the asking? Children are interested in sexuality long before they can verbalize the questions. For example, a pre-schooler may want to watch daddy in the shower or touch mommy's pregnant belly. These present ideal "teachable moments" to pass along lessons on anatomy, reproduction and birth.
When parents take advantage of such opportunities, they not only provide important factual information, they also affirm their willingness to discuss sexual issues with their children. This helps establish an atmosphere of comfort and trust which encourages children to seek additional sexual information from parents in the future.
You needn't worry about telling your child "too much too soon." S/he will simply absorb what s/he can and show boredom with the rest (you know the signs: glazed eyes, yawning, leaving the room …). Your comments are not wasted. S/he may not have gotten all the detail, but clearly the message is "mom and dad are 'askable'."Danger lies not in "too much too soon," but in "too little too late." When parents recognize the asking and respond openly and lovingly, they are well on the way to providing quality family sex education.
Reprinted with the permission of Advocates for Youth.
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