Few years ago, I bumped into young children between three years and four years, well known to me. the boy and the girl were kissing on the lips. I observed them for about thirty minutes as they consistently kissed. I called the two of them and started to engage in a kids talk. While in my presence they continued to kiss.
Curious I asked both where they had learnt how to “chum” as they called it. At this point, my tone or voice did not change as we continued to playfully engage. The boy told me that he had learnt from older friends who were around 7 and 8 years.
I invited the seven-year-old and the 8-year-old who ended up sharing that they had watched pornography in one of the houses accompanied by their nanny. It turned out to be such a chain of many people being involved including some parents.
How do children learn about sex?
In the meetings that followed, we talked about how the other children got involved and the two young ones told me that during their play, they had been going to some corner where the boy and the girl had severally been asked to remove their pants and the boy asked to lie on the girl as others cheered on.
We ended up having a meeting with the parents and we discussed that each parent needed to give the child sex education and explain to their children what is sexually appropriate and what is not. This helps the children to learn how to protect themselves and also protect others from child sexual abuse or sexual violation.
Talking with many school going children has helped me realize that very few children have had sex education from home, and that the little they have been taught is by teachers. Most of the people I have interacted with seem not to have been taught anything about sex by their parents.
What makes it difficult for parents to give children sex education?
- The parents do not know exactly what kind of education to give to what age.
- An unhealthy parents’ view of sex and sexuality – beliefs and perceptions such as sex is bad, sex is shameful, calling sexual organs by name is indecent, sex is never supposed to be talked about around children, or children will not understand /children know nothing about sex or their sexuality. Unhealthy sex education is more damaging.
- When the parent harbors unhealed sexual wounds – this mostly emanates from childhood sexual abuse or sexual violation. Any person who was violated or even abused as a child may find it difficult to have healthy conversations around the children on matters sex and sexuality because unconsciously it reminds them of the pain caused by their own experiences.
How does one heal child sexual abuse so that they can parent better?
Sexual abuse in childhood does not heal by remembering it. That is just one step and a very necessary one. Healing is a journey and a process and one needs a professional who is competent in handling child sexual abuse.
What is normal behavior for children between 3 years to 6 years?
Normal here means natural, nothing to worry about. It doesn’t imply that its acceptable.
- Masturbation (touching of genitals) in private or in public.
- Wanting to see (and sometimes to touch) the other children’s genitals.
- Showing genitals to peers.
- Standing/sitting too close (to anyone, parents of opposite gender or even strangers of opposite gender).
- Trying/struggling to view adult nudity.
Should any of the normal behavior be punished?
The answer is no. If you punish a child for doing any of these, then you either lack information, or you have unresolved issues with your own sexuality.
What needs to be done?
Sex education should start latest 3 years of age.
While training starts at 3 years, sex education needs to continue until young adulthood depending on your child’s capacity and milestones.
At 3 years or slightly below according to your child’s milestones.
These ones learn better using songs or games. I recommend that the children at this stage be taught using a song or a story or a game. I personally use this song:
These are my (private parts *3) These are my private, no one should touch them, no one should see them and no one should lick them.
Demonstrate what touching is, what seeing is and what licking is. While singing, show what the private parts are, preferably by touching.
Repeat until the children get it. At this point begin to teach them how to clean their genital area and also begin to teach them how to dress themselves if you already haven’t. Reward or praise them when they use the potty in private or when they close the toilet. If you do this enough, they learn how to correct the normal behavior and embrace the healthy.
Why keep their parts private?
They are precious so should be kept hidden, let them know they need to touch them only while bathing or urinating ………explain well until your child gets the message.
Do not shame the child for being normal especially when they touch their penis, gently remind on when it needs to be touched.
May I say that by 3 years, children have developed some form of sexual attraction, just that it doesn’t manifest in the way we know it. They become aware of their own sexuality and therefore the masturbation needs not bother anyone. If done excessively, like a child cannot sleep until they have touched their genitals for long, or they masturbate so long in the day, that may point to something else that needs assessment by a child therapist.
At 5 years
At this age, the children need to know the body parts by name as part of consistent sex education. If the parents have spent time connecting emotionally with the child, there is likelihood of getting to know what is happening in the life of the child and that will help a parent to continue giving appropriate sex education.
You may need to have either diagrams, Kids friendly books or simply words as you continue educating them on the names of their private parts. At this point help them to understand that each gender has its own private parts- for boys, name the actual parts and for girls, name the actual parts. Give the correct names like Vagina, Penis etc.
At 6/7 years
Possibility that the child has heard about sex at this point is very high so contrary to what parents believe that the child knows nothing and educating them is corrupting their minds. Part of my sex education to parents has been letting them know if we can pronounce penis and vagina without shame the same way we pronounce leg or nose, then the children will take them as simple body parts.
When we attach negative emotions to the body parts or to sex, we teach them to relate with their sexuality negatively. It is damaging to teach children that some body parts need to be referred to through funny names and not the real names. We are the first best educators of the children and that they carry different subjects with the kind of emotions that we educate them.
Sex education at this point is better done with simple diagrams. Show them that the boys have different sex organs from the girls (some people prefer to use private parts than sex organs). With the simple diagram, either drawn or typed then explain how sex happens. It is easier to educate children about the human body as a whole and that includes the sex organs.
That the Vagina is set in such a way that it accommodates the penis and so the joining together of the Penis and Vagina is what sex is. Many parents argue that this is not different from pornography and my answer is, they are way different. This kind of genuine education is meant to entirely share the truth and prepare children adequately.
After the lessons, let children know that sex is allowed only for the married (personal family values). Some parents believe that sex is allowed after a certain age maybe 18 or 21 so if you feel premarital sex is allowed for adults, then feel free to share that with them. Let your sex education be as factual as possible, so that as they grow, they learn to trust you better. I personally go ahead and share with them that sex is a good thing and a God given gift in marriage.
Why can’t children have sex at this point?
Genuinely, children ask this question and it is important to answer honestly. Their bodies are developing and starting sex early can lead to addictions, diseases, infections. It can also lead to early pregnancies which are harmful when the body is still developing.
Many that I have done sex education to constantly ask me if we – husband and I – usually have sex. My answer has always been yes, and I add that it is God’s gift for us as the married.
Do we see or touch each other’s privates? and again it’s a yes and that they too will be free to touch when they get married?
What happens if someone tries or violates them in touching, coercing or even luring them into sexual activities? Let the children know you will listen to them, believe them, protect them and that no one can harm them or you. This is because perpetrators use threats of harm or telling the child that no one will believe them.
By Joan Kirera – Family Therapist. For more visit: www.joankirera.com: Facebook: joan kirera, YouTube: joan kirera