Helping Your School-Age Child Learn About the Body - Topic Overview
As a parent, you are the ideal teacher to help your child learn about
sex. Open communication about sexuality helps your child understand his or her
feelings and encourages a positive attitude toward a natural process.
Your explanations should be honest and simple. Because children's
cognitive growth is ongoing, a 6-year-old child often is not able to fully
grasp the details about sexuality that a child who is about to enter puberty
may need to have explained. A good way to gauge children's readiness for
information is to first find out what they think the answer might be to their
own question. Then provide as little or as much information as you think is
needed. Keep your conversations ongoing, so that more sophisticated information
can be given at appropriate times.
Some common behaviors and issues to discuss may include:
- Masturbation or playing doctor. As children begin
to develop a clearer self-concept, they become curious about their bodies and
others' bodies. They often satisfy this curiosity through exploration.
Masturbation and games like "doctor" are common ways for children to learn
about their own bodies and compare them to others. If you discover your child
masturbating or playing doctor, try not to react with anger or outrage. That
will only make your child feel ashamed and embarrassed. These are ideal times
to teach your child about sexuality and about the differences between public
and private activities.
- Where babies come from. By the time
children are 6 years old, many have asked about where babies live before they
are born. These questions can be answered with general conversation about how
the baby grows in a special place inside mommy's tummy. Most younger school-age
children are not ready to learn all the details about how the genitals relate
specifically to sexuality and reproduction. They usually are not yet curious
about how the baby got there in the first place. If your child asks more
questions, you may want to give him or her an age-appropriate book on the
subject to start, and be prepared to provide more explanation as well.
- Sex organs and their purpose. By the time girls are 8 or 9, they
may ask questions about their genitals. Boys may wonder about morning
erections. As children move closer to puberty, they should know the proper
names of the sex organs and how the body changes during puberty. They should
understand how babies are conceived.
- Respect and care for the
body. Although children this age are naturally interested in knowing about
their own genitals and sex, their outward attitude is that it is "yucky." In
your discussions, try to stress that the body and sex are not
- Reassurance about their body shape. As they become more
aware, it is common for children to feel that their own bodies are not right.
School-age children often fret about their size or believe that they have some
sort of physical defect. It is common for children around age 8 to become
increasingly modest and to avoid situations in which they have to undress in
front of others. It is often helpful for these children to understand that
bodies come in a wide range of sizes and shapes and that nearly all children
their age have the same concerns.
Many groups, such as Planned Parenthood or those sponsored by
your local hospital, offer classes that you can attend with your older child
that address sexuality, what to expect during puberty, and similar topics.
Enrolling in such a class may make it easier for you to start an ongoing
dialogue with your child.