Raising Sexually Healthy Preschoolers
In my first (and only) semester of grad school, I took a course on human sexuality. The content was fascinating and sobering. The discussions were lively – led by our 80-something professor who was more comfortable talking about sexuality than anyone I know. Yesterday, I pulled out a research paper I wrote for the class about raising sexually healthy preschoolers because, well, I have one of those now. Here are some highlights.
The foundation for raising sexually healthy preschoolers is the same foundation for raising healthy preschoolers period. Love them – in words and actions. Take an interest in their likes and dislikes. Foster an atmosphere of open communication based on trust. Allow any question no matter the subject matter. Listen to what they’re saying. Know what is developmentally appropriate for their age and manage expectations appropriately. Encourage decision-making and responsibility even in the preschool years – give choices when the stakes are low.
Teach early, often and age-appropriately
By the time many parents talk to their kids about sex, the kids often know everything already. Or at least they know whatever version was told by their friends. It’s easier to give correct information on the front end than to attempt to correct bad information years later.
And since preschoolers are quite curious, teaching situations often happen naturally. “Why do I look different from boys?” Where did I come from?” “How do babies get inside of you?” And if they don’t ask questions, you can still use situations such as potty training, bath time, pregnancy, breastfeeding, etc. to bring up issues surrounding sexuality.
You don’t have to go into details with kids at this age. Keep explanations short and simple – using correct terminology. While it may be uncomfortable, it is essential we use anatomically correct terms with our kids. A contradictory message is sent if our kids learn nicknames for body parts and later discover they were given incorrect information. Using correct terminology teaches our kids to respect and acknowledge every part of their bodies.
When we teach our kids early, often and age-appropriately, sexuality becomes a natural part of life. Not some taboo topic that waits for “the talk” about “the facts of life.”
Teach privacy, not shame
I once overheard a mom mention that she smacks her preschooler’s hand when she finds him playing with his penis. This made me cringe. It is perfectly normal for preschoolers to be curious about themselves and others. Teaching kids to touch themselves (and pick their nose) in private without shaming them is a great way to establish the concept of privacy. Teaching kids that the areas their bathing suits cover are not for other people to look at or touch (with the exception of doctors and parents and caregivers at appropriate times) is another way to instill concepts of privacy and teach them to protect themselves.
A New Resource
Over the last few years, I’ve looked for a great book to help my kiddos grasp the importance of their bodies and how to keep them safe. Until recently I hadn’t found one that I loved. But when God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies arrived on the scene, I read a bunch of reviews and then went ahead and ordered it. I’m so glad I did.
It addresses several issues head on.
- God made each and every part of our body and each and every part is good.
- Kids are in charge of their own bodies (which means they can even say “no” to a hug from Mom or Dad or Grandma if they’re not in the mood).
- Some parts of our bodies are private (the book uses anatomically correct names).
- If anything ever makes a child uncomfortable, they should always tell a trusted adult.
Kid’s will learn about sexuality whether we like it or not. As parents, let’s be proactive and be the ones who give our kids their first impression of sexuality – as a gift from God to be honored and protected.
There’s so much more that could be said on this topic! Do you have additional tips or suggestions for raising sexually healthy preschoolers? An experience you’d like to share?
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*A version of this post was originally published on April 11, 2012.