There's No Place Like Home for Sex Education: 5 Years (page 3)
Kids Need to Know... Parents Need to Tell Them
Certainly by age 5, a child has a good idea about where mom and dad stand on the subject of sex … and whether it's ok to even talk about it. From birth, children receive an array of messages about sexuality from their parents: infants who are held and cuddled learn about loving touch; toddlers exploring their bodies quickly discover their sexual parts—and their parents' reactions to their exploration; the preschooler who asks her dad, "Where's my penis?" becomes aware if sexual questions are ok to discuss (or not) in her family.
The 5-year-old has had a bit of experience in the world: interactions with family; exposure to other children and differing beliefs; TV, movies, magazines, advertising, music … which influence the developing sense of sexuality, either directly or indirectly. Children cannot avoid the sexual messages that permeate life today.
Natural situations, everyday moments and events lend themselves to a child's sex education. With or without your consent they occur, as the life and learning processes of your children unfold.
Parents may respond with silence, disgust, scolding … implying that sexuality is negative or dirty. Or, they may respond with delight, using these opportunities to offer loving, honest explanations … teaching the child that sexuality is a wonderful part of being human.
Families have so much to gain from open communication about sex. Taking the initiative to develop a dialogue of trust, parents can pass along important family values. Children have the opportunity to gain accurate information and a positive regard for sexuality.
The time to start this dialogue is early—earlier in fact than many parents would suspect. In today's complex world, perhaps even more so than in the past, children need and deserve thoughtful, purposeful sex education from day one.
But it's never too late to begin. And while you as a parent will not be your children's only sex educator, you can be (and are) their first and most important.
"What Will The Neighbors Think?"
Everyone has his/her own feelings about sexuality and about messages that are appropriate for children. Chances are you'll find family members, friends and neighbors whose ideas and values are very different from your own. This can challenge your resolve to communicate openly and honestly with your child about sex. It may help to keep in mind what's at stake here … and what's more important: your child's needs, or the opinion of others?
There's a lot to be said for the child who knows that s/he can depend on mom and dad to respond to sexual questions and concerns with respect, support and honesty.
"But what if he goes around the neighborhood, sharing this information with all his friends? 'Then what?"
So what. Let's face it. Kids frequently compare information with each other about sex, whether parents want them to or not. Usually it's misinformation. The bottom line here is that children deserve quality sex education. Parents need not apologize for providing that education—no matter who objects.
Here We Go Again
The sexual curiosities of your 5-year-old aren't so different from the ones at ages 3 and 4. You may think, "I'm sure I told you where babies come from," or "We've already discussed what "bellybuttons" are all about, remember?"
Your 5-year-old probably doesn't remember. There's so much to learn … and this is complex stuff. Maybe your child does remember (sort of), and is just checking to make sure it's still ok to talk about sexual issues with you. Please be patient and supportive.
The goal of family sex education goes beyond the mere presentation of facts. Ideally, parents seek to nurture in their child positive attitudes toward his/her body, gender, and sexuality. One way to do this is to continue to be "askable" … encourage sexual questions, acknowledge and discuss sexual behaviors, and initiate conversations about sexual issues.
But Scott's Dad Said...
As your 5-year-old becomes more involved with others (in preschool, kindergarten, etc.), s/he will also be exposed to differing family attitudes and values. It can be terribly confusing, so it's important that parents reemphasize personal beliefs. For example:
- Johnny: Scott's Dad got really mad today. He yelled at us for taking our clothes off.
- Dad: What did he say?
- J: He said we were nasty. We told him we were just pretending to be doctors, but he yelled at us again and made us put on our clothes.
Scott's dad was alarmed at seeing his son and another boy undressed, looking at and touching each other's body. Perhaps he worried this was "abnormal," maybe he was upset because he believes nudity is inappropriate. His anger left the children feeling hurt, ashamed and "nasty."
Johnny's dad believes that "playing doctor" is a normal childhood experience—between same and other gender children. At this age, they're fascinated by bodies—how they look, feel, work … and are especially interested in "how yours compares to mine."
He realizes that often parents forget that a child's sexual behavior does not have the same emotional significance that it does for adults.
He also appreciates that families have different values and beliefs surrounding sex.
His concern right now is to restore Johnny's positive feelings about himself, his body and his sexuality.
- Dad: Why do you suppose Scott's dad was so angry?
Johnny: He thought we were being nasty.
D: Do you think you were?
D: Neither do I. You and Scott were interested in finding out about bodies. That's pretty normal.
J: Scott's dad thinks it's bad.
D: Well, he may believe it's not ok for kids to play without their clothes on. Some families feel that way. So when you're playing with Scott, be sure to respect that, and keep your clothes on. It's ok to be curious about bodies. In fact, I have a book that shows all kinds of bodies, and how they work. Let's read it!
Johnny has heard some valuable messages: his dad re-enforced his willingness to discuss sexual issues with him and emphasized a positive attitude toward sexuality. He acknowledged that family beliefs differ, and it's important to respect that.
Good work, dad!
Just When You Thought You Had It Handled …
We live in frightening times. The alarming incidence of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) has sparked serious concern—and at times irrational fear.
Many schools offer HIV/AIDS education, grades K-12. Increasingly, ads, news stories and public service announcements, talk of safer sex practices, condoms, gay, lesbian and heterosexual issues.
As parents of a kindergarten child, you're totally baffled. Just what and how do you discuss HIV/AIDS with a 5-year-old?
Your child doesn't need confusing details about the complexities of sexual relationships, sexual transmission of infection, etc. S/he does however, need you to address this scary topic that everyone's talking about.
It's an ideal time to discuss general concepts of wellness and staying healthy. Help your child appreciate that much of his health is under his control. Habits such as hand washing, dressing appropriately, eating nutritious foods, exercising, and getting plenty of rest promote good health. Discuss basic facts about disease. For example, explain that some diseases like colds, flu, and chicken pox are caused by germs, which spread from person to person. If those germs get into his body, he may become ill. Ask if he has heard of AIDS (he'll likely say yes). Let him know that AIDS is a disease caused by a germ called a virus.
This may suffice for now, but expand if he shows interest or anxiety. Find out what he's heard about HIV/AIDS, and correct any misinformation.
Contact your child's school to see how teachers are dealing with the subject. Discussions at home can build upon information s/he's learning in school.
Appropriate messages about HIV/ AIDS for a 5-year-old:
- AIDS is caused by a virus called HIV.
- Some viruses like HIV can only spread in special ways (e.g., by blood from an infected person getting into another person's body.
- We needn't avoid people who are HIV+ or who have AIDS. HIV is not easy to get. It is not spread by casual contact (e.g., shaking hands, hugging, sharing food, etc.).
We can't ignore the subject of HIV/AIDS and other STI's. Neglecting or refusing to discuss this with children may only cause unnecessary alarm. On the other hand, initiating discussion can help allay their fears while providing important information to protect their health. At the same time, you once again reinforce that you value open family communication about sexual issues.
Reprinted with the permission of Advocates for Youth.
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