There's No Place Like Home for Sex Education: 3 Years (page 2)
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.
Of Storks and Cabbage Patches
A 3-year-old's view of the world is a very literal one. For example, when told that a baby is growing in mommy's tummy, a child may ask, "Why did she eat the baby?" The vision is one of a baby mixed with food in mommy's stomach. Anything other than truthful, simple answers only creates confusion.
Beyond confusion, a sense of mistrust may develop when a child, told by her parents that the stork brought her, later discovers the truth. Through all this, the message implied is that sex is negative—and not an ok subject to talk about openly, honestly.
Concocting fables in response to children's sexual questions is a disservice to them. Their questions deserve truthful answers—scaled to their level of understanding, of course.
For example, when a young child asks, "Where did I come from?", a parent may at first say, "What a fine question! Do you have any ideas about that?" This accomplishes three things: it clarifies what the child is really asking (S/he may simply mean "what city," in which case you're off the hook); it buys the parent some time to collect his/her thoughts; and it provides a sense of how much the child already knows.
The second response can be something simple, and honest: "You started as a tiny egg inside
mommy's body." This alone may well satisfy the child (although probably not), yet it leaves the door open for further discussion.
The point is, honesty really is the best policy. There's certainly no need at this stage to deliver a lengthy description of intercourse, conception and birth. That's not what your 3-year-old is interested in now. S/he just wants some basic information.
So relax. For the young child, sex doesn't have the same emotional significance as it does for an adult. Keeping this in mind can be a great help to parents as they encounter their children's normal sexual curiosities.
Is Your Sexism Showing?
During the pre-school years, parents have perhaps the greatest opportunity to influence their children's sexual attitudes—including ones about sex role expectations. It's a wonderful time to plant the seed that both boys and girls are capable of just about anything they wish.
When parents are careful to avoid stereotyping male/female roles, children learn that life options need not be limited by their gender. This does wonders for their self-esteem.
Take advantage of the many simple opportunities to broaden your child's perspective with regard to sex role expectations:
- Share household chores.
- Allow and encourage children to play with toys and take part in games that cross traditional lines—it's fine for boys to play with dolls and girls to play football.
- Read non-sexist literature to your child—with males and females portrayed in a variety of roles.
- Pay attention to language implying sex role limitations (ie. "fireman" vs. "firefighter"). Use "he or she" in reference to doctors, nurses, etc. It's awkward, but makes an important point.
Simplistic? Pointless? Don't let the subtlety fool you. When parents refuse to pigeonhole male/female expectations, they allow a child's "self" to blossom.
Reprinted with the permission of Advocates for Youth.
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