We all know children are full of curiosity. They always want to try different food, games, clothes, and many things to satisfy their imagination. One curiosity is also about their body. We often find kids putting their hands in their mouths, running around naked, smelling their poop, touching their genitals, and asking their parents why boys and girls have different body parts. This exploration is very normal as their bodies are the most familiar thing to them. They are born with it and grow up seeing changes in themselves.
However, parents tend to avoid talking about the sexual aspect because they deem it inappropriate for their age. How ridiculous is that? There is nothing shameful about acknowledging that their kids have sexual body parts they are curious about. Moreover, talking about sex will not ruin your child’s innocence and encourage them to have an unhealthy interest in sex. It’s just basic biological knowledge. In this day and age where everything is just one click away on the Internet, information can easily turn into misinformation. Especially concerning sex, a topic that garners much scrutiny, avoidance of the issue can be very dangerous for our kids.
One negative impact of withdrawing necessary sexual health information from our children is sexual violence. According to Indonesia’s Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection, there are over 8.730 cases of sexual abuse in minorities, and the perpetrators mostly came from their family members or close adult caregivers. That is just the official data alone, and many more unreported cases are undeniably still out there. Lack of body awareness at a young age leads children to become unaware they are being harassed and touched inappropriately by the adults around them. They’ll think being touched like that is normal and eventually won’t tell their parents about it. Adolescences may also engage in underage sexual activity with their peers without understanding the grave consequences. Because of those reasons, parents need to be as honest as possible with their kids and start introducing age-appropriate sex education and body safety skills.
You might ask, how can we know that our children’s sexual behaviors are still considered normal? The American Academy of Paediatrics listed the following as common in children between ages 2 to 6:
- Touching genitals in public or private
- Looking at or touching a peer or a new sibling’s genitals
- Showing genitals to peers
- Standing or sitting too close to someone
- Trying to see peers or adults naked
In contrast, uncommon behaviors include inserting objects into genitals, explicit imitation of sexual activity, and rubbing their bodies against others. If these behaviors arise, parents need to interfere directly or get professional help. But if their behaviors are still largely new, distractible, and only occasional, then they are normal.
Here are some things parents can do to support our children’s healthy exploration:
1. Use correct terms for body parts
Often parents use slang to define sexual body parts because they think their kids are too young to understand the correct biological terms. We need to stop this practice. The word ‘penis’ or ‘vagina’ is NOT difficult to understand. If we can teach them how to use words like ‘eyes’ or ‘nose’, we can teach them those words as well. Making up names will only give them the idea there is something disgusting about those parts. In the process, explain which parts are usually exposed (arms or legs) and which parts need to be covered (genitals or butt).
2. Teach consent
Let your children know it’s totally okay to reject an unwanted touch and that doing so is not disrespectful. If some touches make them uncomfortable, instruct your kids to say ‘No’, scream to alert other adults, or run back to you. Tell the other family members they should always respect the child’s consent and can only be in a close space with your children under your supervision.
Additionally, as parents, we need to understand that some affection cannot be forced. Don’t let people kiss or hug your children when they don’t like it. Inappropriate touching, even in a trusted adult like their grandparents, can confuse children. Emphasize that they can make their own decisions regarding their bodies. You are there to support and protect them, and they can always go to you if something is wrong.
3. Control media exposure
Media can portray sexuality in a wrong light. It can influence children’s perspective on what is and what is not acceptable in society from the movies or TV series they consume. Parents need to pay attention to the rating system in movies, shows, and games, and utilize the parental control available in gadgets. There are a lot of safer alternatives if you still want to teach your kids using media. For example, you can find many health videos on puberty and sexual development on Youtube presented by experts and professionals.
4. Welcome any questions
Because this is a new topic for them, your kids will undoubtedly have many questions to ask you. Encourage them! Not only it can give them new insights, but it will also prepare you and your kids for future serious conversations, like for example, discussing sex later on. As the responsible adult figures in their lives, don’t laugh or get angry when they ask you strange things or repeat the same questions. Follow up your answers with a confirmation question to bait them if they still want to ask more. Then, don’t forget to listen to their responses and reactions to know if they understand enough.
In short, kids shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed for their curiosity. Their sexual body parts are not something taboo. It’s just body parts! The key to a healthy exploration is to have open, honest, and non-judgmental communication. Parents need to be active role figures during this time and nurture them on the right path so they can feel protected and understood.
American Academy of Pediatrics. (2019, April 1). Sexual Behaviors in Young Children: What’s Normal, What’s Not?. Healthychildren.org. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/preschool/Pages/Sexual-Behaviors-Young-Children.aspx
Gan, E. (2019, September 28). Teaching children about body safety: Call genitals by proper terms for a start, experts advise parents. Today Online. https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/teaching-children-about-body-safety-call-genitals-proper-terms-start-experts-advise
Marder, J. (2020, July 16). Keeping Kids Curious About Their Bodies Without Shame. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/16/parenting/kids-body-boundaries.html