Answering questions about sex is a responsibility that many parents dread and often try to avoid. For some parents, sex has never featured as a topic to be discussed at the dinner table when they were growing up. Feeling unprepared, parents often shift the role of informing their children about sex and reproduction to education authorities. The health and education division can in no way be the sole educators on sexual health. The family is pivotal to a person’s life development of feelings, love, relationships and education.
As a fundamental part of its contribution to the development and well-being, school-based sexual health education can play an important role in promoting sexual health and primary prevention of significant sexual health problems such as STI/HIV. Indeed sexual development begins during a child’s very first years. Infants, toddlers, pre-schoolers, and young school-aged kids develop an emotional and physical foundation for sexuality as they grow. There is evidence that shows that the attachments established in these early years help set the stage for bonding and intimacy at later stages of life.
Parents have the responsibility to support their kids to foster their emotional health development, leading to a positive sexual health experience. Parents need support to be armed with the facts to get some sense of what to expect and to be there to answer questions and offer guidance. The guidance needs to be tailor-made to the age of the child.
In the case of infants and toddlers, parents express their attachment by physical contact. The sensation of being touched and hugged leads to positive physical sensations, associated with being loved. Forming the early roots of love that later develops into mature sexuality. At such an early age, children explore their bodies. This is very normal and parents should not stop them from doing it. It is also very natural for baby boys to have frequent erections.
Children start developing awareness about gender difference at the age of two to three. By the age of five, children start asking about different organs of a girl and a boy and where do babies come from. Being truthful at this stage also encourages your kids to come to you with their questions in the future. You can say that a man and woman can make a baby and that the baby grows inside the mummy’s tummy. If this satisfies your child, you might not need to provide additional information about how the baby is actually made until later.
Between ages five and ten, children are interested in pregnancy and birth. At this age, if parents are not available to give reliable information, they will turn to their peers, the internet or media for information. At this age, it is possible to find children sharing “dirty” jokes about sex and body parts. You can share simple jokes that they can share with their friend instead of the dirty jokes. We cannot expect children to avoid such jargon if you are saying these yourself – it’s important to be a good role model for your child.
As kids continue to understand and experience their bodies, and the physical changes of puberty emerge, your attitude and acceptance will continue to play an important role in their healthy development. Puberty can be a very confusing time, with lots of physical and emotional changes – kids need to know what to expect in the months and years ahead. Keep a good communication channel, be there for your kids and raise discussion when they don’t.
Many parents wonder if talking about sexuality and reproduction will encourage their children to experiment. Evidence shows that young people whose parents discuss all aspects of sexuality with them, tend to delay becoming sexually active, compared to those parents that don’t.
Listen and communicate with children to build a trustful relationship in this area, as this will encourage them to come and talk when they need.
So what is the ideal age for parents to begin this discussion with their children on sexual health? There is no right or wrong answer here. Start relations-building from the time a baby is born. Discussions with parents suggest that 9 or 10 years old is a good time to start if you haven’t already.
WHAT DO I SAY?
Here’s a breakdown of what you should be saying to your kids at what age.
Whatever you say and whenever you say it there are two important things that all parents should communicate to their children. The first is that they love them and will always love them, and the second is that they do have values and expectations for their children’s behavior, and they include expecting their children to wait to have sex.
For primary-school-aged kids
- Talk about love, affection and relationships.
- Talk about treating others with respect and about expecting to be treated with respect.
- When your child is old enough to ask questions, he or she is old enough to receive simple and correct answers.
For secondary school-aged kids
- Be very clear.
- Tell your pre-teen or teen why it is important to make good decisions about sex.
- Talk to him or her about setting goals for the future.
- Talk about feelings, relationships, values and waiting to have sex.
For kids after secondary school age
- Keep talking.
- Continue to talk about setting goals.
- Continue to reinforce your family’s values.
© 2017 – VIDA Magazine – Dr Charmaine Gauci