Don’t leave it too late to talk to your children about sex…or someone else might get to them first
Many of us assume that by middle childhood, a child would understand the concepts of the body as sacred, and of privacy…
And that they would be familiar with the word ‘sex’, some would be looking forward to puberty and many would have both real life and imaginary friends, right?
Well, not privacy for many. I mean, not if you consider the situation at a school assembly, where alongside other parents, I was at the back, listening to the school principal, teachers and learners as they took turns in executing their morning routines. With heightened tension, I moved my eyes slowly to my right-hand side. Coincidentally, they landed on another parent whose eyes seemed to have piercingly invited my instinct.
She was amused and fighting hard to hold back her laughter, while I was shockingly amused and visibly confused. Both of us had spotted a Grade two learner, coincidentally my daughter’s grade mate and friend, who lifted her school dress, pushed her pink underwear aside, and was scratching the line between her bum crack or her intergluteal cleft. I moved my eyes randomly through the tens of parents. Many were watching her and expressing different types of emotions.
The question that crossed my mind was how an almost eight-year-old would not understand privacy
I have used this illustration in many of my talks on teaching privacy to children and parents. I consider that at this stage, early childhood lessons given from home have to be evident in a child. After all, it is assumed that teaching and supporting young children’s development at home serves as foundation for school learning – and this shows up in each child’s cognitive interaction both culturally, and developmentally, as they adapt to the culture of schooling outside their homes.
I agree with tons of middle childhood and adolescent researchers across the globe* that there are many handicaps to parents talking to, and teaching their children of all ages. These authors found that even from when children are young, the level of education, living arrangement, job situation, or socio-economic background, culture, religion, marital status, child-parents age, embarrassments from disclosure, children’s attitudes and many other factors are to blame. These factors even influence how parents speak to and teach their children, if at all; sometimes much more than does their willingness to do so. But when parenting is executed as a conscious and involved act, there is often a way.
Please find a way to talk to your children
Teach them to name their bodies
If you execute the steps in the past two articles, then by 7 to 9, children should know what words to use when talking about various body parts of both girls and boys like vulva, labia, vagina, clitoris, uterus, ovaries, breasts, penis, testicles, scrotum and anus. They should know that boys and girls have body parts that may feel good when touched, but should not be touched by anyone. That although the same, human bodies come in different sizes, shapes and colours.
Teach them to care for their bodies
Children this age should know basic hygiene. They should be able to look after their private parts, hair, teeth, skin, and know how to say NO to inappropriate touches by anyone and to report such attempts or acts immediately.
Teach them about puberty
They must know both the word and its meaning. By 7 to 9, children should be aware that their bodies will change as they get older. That puberty, which starts at as early as 9 to 10 years, is a time of physical, psychological and emotional changes. Tell them that puberty leads them to adulthood in thought, behaviours and actions.
Teach them about menstruation and ejaculation
I can imagine how open your mouth is right now. Yes, children are menstruating at younger ages and so are they ejaculating. They are masturbating too, even if they do not know what they are doing. Introduce these at this age and only questions should lead you deeper or not.
Teach them about sex and sexual intercourse
Most 7 to 9-year-olds already know that a baby happens when a man’s sperm joins a woman’s ovum. They may know about sex, but few actually understand sexual intercourse or IVF. Talk to them about both. They may not know that sperms leave the man through his penis and go into the woman’s vagina. That the egg and the sperm then join together, and grow into a baby.
It is hard for many parents, but tell them that adults kiss, hug, touch and engage in other sexual behaviours as natural ways of adulting. That sex is an adult activity and is not for children. Questions will follow. Answer accordingly.
Teach them about love
Love is a show of warm feelings for yourself and others, expressed differently to different people at different times. They do not need to know about romantic love. But if they ask, tell them sincerely how it makes your heart skip.
Teach them sexual about behaviour
Tell them that sexual behaviour is private and for grownups. Warn them against pictures and videos of naked people or people having sex on magazine and the internet. Tell them that watching these is wrong and definitely not for children. Depending on your culture and religion, or if they ask, explain sexual orientations like heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual. Otherwise, keep quiet for now.
Teach them about families
At 7 to 9, you are teaching family values and how to express them to different members at different settings. How to love, care, contribute, help, and connect to each member either physically or electronically, but genuinely so.
Teach them about friendships
By now, they have made friends out of your circle. They have friends of different race, gender, culture, religion, shape and sizes from theirs. Teach them how to moderate the frustrations and joys that friendships bring. What to do together and how to respect each other. Teach them the subtlety of bullying and being bullied.
Teach them personal skills
This is how to take care of their mental health through appropriate time management, planning and organising skills. They should know communication, like when to tell, ask and respond. How and when to make their own decisions and learn consequences of right or wrong ones. How to be assertive in their choices and display both negotiation and problem-solving skills.
Give them the support they need
Of course, every child needs their parent and caregiver. If you don’t stand in for them, they will just get both information and support from someone like family members, friends, media and even strangers. This means that you have no control over what they get exposed to. Can you live with that?
Look out for our article next week on “Talking The Talk: privacy, self-care, puberty and … with 10 to 12-year-olds”.
Because some children don’t ask questions, it is up to you as your child’s most qualified communicator and psychologist, to start this conversation.
*Authors referred to in this text: Ingersoll, 1982; Oros, 2012; Coetzee, Dietrich, Otwombe, Nkala, Khunwane, van der Watt and Gray, 2014; Dindili, 2014; Temple-Smith, Moore and Rosenthal, 2016; Le Poire, 2006; Zimmerman, 2011; Phetla, Busza, Hargreaves, Pronyk, Kim, Morison, Watts and Porter, 2008; Bhana, 2004; Zuma, Setswe, Ketye, Mzolo, Rehle and Mbelle, 2010; Hindin and Fatusi, 2009.