Sex Ed for preschoolers?
The thought makes people squirm. But I’m not talking about formal, public school sex ed. I’m talking about what kids learn about their bodies, relationships, and sexuality and how that knowledge progresses, beginning in early childhood — or even before!
As Heather Shumaker points out in her book, It’s OK Not to Share (*affiliate link), children begin to be educated about their bodies (the foundation of sex ed) from birth.
“What is this?”
“Why don’t you have one?”
“How did the baby get in your tummy?”
“How does the doctor get it out?”
Kids have plenty of questions. What they learn may be up to us — unless we shy away, then there will always be other sources willing to give our kids information about their bodies and about sexuality.
As Heather says, “…When I hit age eight, I was able to cope with the onslaught of misinformation that flourished on the school bus and in the school yard.”
And misinformation is easy for kids to come by. In addition to playground banter, kids are potentially exposed to more media outlets today than ever before. (On a somewhat related note, a woman who works with pornography addictions recently told me that many of the adults she works with admitted that their exposure began around age 5!)
This doesn’t mean we have to jump in at the deep end all at once, in some kind of drastic preemptive strike. We want our discussions to be age appropriate, and to answer the questions the children are actually asking. As Heather points out, “If a child is old enough to ask, she’s old enough to get an honest answer.” (pg 332)
But answer in kind — a simple question deserves a simple (but accurate and honest) answer. When my son quizzically asked if his private area was called a “Venus”, I simply reminded him of the correct term and we moved on. We didn’t pull out the anatomy book or launch into “the birds and the bees”.
If you’re naturally predisposed to dodging these kinds of questions (as I’ve been known to do) don’t fret. Committing to answering doesn’t mean you have to answer on the spot. If you’re in public or need some time to gather your thoughts, try one of the scripts Heather suggests (pg 334): “That’s an important question, honey. We’ll talk about it on the way home.” or “That’s a big question, and I want to make sure we have plenty of time to talk about it….” Just be sure to follow up!
In addition to getting the answers from you (instead of the many other places they may go looking if you shy away) answering kids’ questions with respect cultivates a culture of open communication. They know they can ask questions — even tough ones — and not be embarrassed. They know you will answer and not be uncomfortable or angry.
Perhaps what these chats really teach kids — maybe even more than about sexuality — is that you want them to come to you, and that they will be safe and respected.
At the core, this section was about communication.
And if you feel outside of your comfort zone with these topics (as I sometimes do) Heather has great tips and even scripts that will get you started. It’s a fantastic section, which also deals with other tough subjects like death and grief. And Heather does a wonderful job of starting the discussion, but also allowing room for various beliefs and values in these very personal subjects.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this section!
(This is the first section where Heather and I actually recorded the chat before the section summary posted. But if you have questions about this one in particular (or any others in the past) please post them in the comments and I’ll try to address them in our final chat!)
Other points in the section to consider:
* Being an “askable” parent. “It’s not a lecture, it’s a discussion.” (pg 333)
* Clarifying the question and following questions up with “What do you think?” (pg 335)
* Books are Allies (pg 337) Do you have a favorite resource for teaching kids about their bodies and/or about the life cycle?
* Allowing kids to explore the concept death, but also feel safe. (pg 345)
* Sharing your grief appropriately with kids. (pg 348)
Add your thoughts in the comments section, or begin the read along at the beginning!
Psst– You might also enjoy these posts on a similar topic: