May

01

2013

Lindsey Holcomb|8:00 AM CT

5 Ways to Teach Your Kids About Sexual Development

As a parent, modeling respectful behaviors and boundaries and sharing age-appropriate information can counter unhealthy social norms around sexuality and relationships. Children are constantly learning social norms from peers and the media, and it is your job to teach them what is expected or appropriate in interactions and relationships.

From infancy you can start talking about healthy childhood development. This may not come naturally for you, so you will need to learn about healthy childhood sexual development and age-appropriate behaviors to better discuss unhealthy behaviors or abusive touch with your children.

To help get you started, here are five ways you can teach your children about their sexual development.

1. Create safe, positive, and open communication patterns, especially around sexuality and development. Your children will have lots of questions about their bodies, other people's bodies, and life in general. Answer their questions with age-appropriate and candid responses. This will build confidence and trust with your child. Teach them that there are no secrets in the family and that they can always ask you anything and tell you everything. Instead of the word "secrets" use "surprises" when necessary. Explain the difference between a secret and a surprise.

2. Teach and use correct names of body parts, such as penis, vagina, and breasts. You can begin from infancy. It might be uncomfortable at first, but use the proper names of body parts. Children need to know the proper names for their genitals. This knowledge gives children correct language for understanding their bodies, for asking questions that need to be asked, and for telling about any behavior that could lead to sexual abuse.

3. Initiate conversations with your child about relationships and their body. "When I was a little girl I had a lot of questions about my body parts and other people's body parts. Do you have any questions you want to talk about?" Or, "I know you like to play dress up at school or your friend's house, but it's not okay to take off your clothes to put on a costume unless you are at your house with mom or dad home. Do you understand why I say that?"

Also, let your children know they can tell you if anyone touches them in the private areas or in any way that makes them feel uncomfortable—no matter who the person is, or what the person says to them.

4. Promote healthy behaviors by praising your children when their behaviors model healthy friendships and respect for personal boundaries. "Brian, that was great when you listened when Sara said she wanted you to stop hugging her. That was a good way to respect your friend's boundaries and stop when she asked you."

5. Model respectful boundaries with your children by teaching them from a young age that they are in control of their bodies and have a responsibility to respect the boundaries of others. "Most of the time you like to be hugged, snuggled, tickled, and kissed, but sometimes you don't and that's okay. You have a right to personal space, privacy, and boundaries. Let me know if anyone—myself, family member, friend, or anyone else—touches any part of your body or talks to you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable."

If your son or daughter does not want to kiss or hug you or someone else do not force the exchange. Instead teach them to say, "No thank you." They can give a high five or wave hello or goodbye. Encourage your children to seek help when something feels uncomfortable for them. It may take awhile for extended family members to catch on to this new trend in relating, so you as your child's advocate will need to explain what is allowed and not allowed.

Lindsey's article was originally posted at Resurgence. 

Lindsey Holcomb counsels victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, and she conducts training seminars to service providers and pastors. She has an MS from Touro University, where her graduate research was on violence against women and public health responses. Lindsey and her husband, Justin, wrote Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault.

Categories: Articles of Interest
  • T.Newbell

    Thank you this post but specifically for this: If your son or daughter does not want to kiss or hug you or someone else do not force the exchange. Instead teach them to say, "No thank you."

    Wonderful!

  • http://angiesu97.blogspot.com Angie

    Great article! Thanks so much for posting. As someone who works for a child advocacy center, I see firsthand why this information needs to be in the hands of all parents!

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  • http://HSPandMe.com Sean Nemecek

    Thanks for the great article. So many parents need this information!

  • Clarice

    This is so helpful, thank you! I totally agree we should avoid forcing our children to show physical affection to people who ask for it (grandparents,etc, as well as non-family). I'd add that we parents should rethink games that involve dominance and ignoring "no," such as tickling.

    • Sara

      "I'd add that we parents should rethink games that involve dominance and ignoring "no," such as tickling." Very much agree. From my perspective, it's so important to teach healthy boundaries. But if our games/activities aren't encouraging these, we send mixed messages! Thank you for bringing this up!

    • Lori

      I do agree. However, I also think it's really important to distinguish between truly abusive behavior and merely intrusive behavior. Unfortunately, I think in discussions like this, the line can get blurry. The grandparent or aunt or uncle who insists on a hug is being intrusive, but they aren't being abusive, and it's important that both the child and the parent know that. Giving a grandchild a hug or kiss they don't want isn't going to traumatize them. A game of tickling might be intrusive for some children (although certainly not all--I hated being tickled as a child, and my daughter doesn't like it, but my two boys LOVE being tickled, and will start yelling "Again! Again! Again!" like half a second after "Stop! Stop! Stop!"), but it's not abusive.

      I just think it's important that kids distinguish between unwanted touches and abusive touches, because not all are the same. I'm not a particularly huggy person with people I don't know. It makes me uncomfortable. But, I have friends and family members who are very huggy, and they will hug me, and I'm okay with that, even though it makes me uncomfortable. I don't expect to be asked permission first, and they aren't asexually assaulting me by hugging me without my explicit permission.

      I guess I just think we need to make sure that we don't confuse something unwanted with something damaging or abusive. Grandma giving you a hug you don't really want is not at all the same as an adult using a child's body for sexual gratification. I feel like that distinction can get lost in these kinds of discussions, and that can be more confusing and damaging for kids than not telling them anything at all. I'm just wary about the idea that kids might walk away from talks like this not seeing the distinction between, say, their aunt wanting a hug when she sees them for the first time in six months and an adult wanting to touch them in sexual ways. Those are very, very, very different, and I want them to understand that they are very, very, very different. I'm wondering how we can let children know that they have the right to say no to both without causing them to think that the two instances are the same, or that the first is abusive?

  • Niki

    While I appreciate this article and do find the information given to be helpful and mostly Biblical, I am extremely disappointed with the hyperlink to "healthy childhood sexual development." The article is clearly written from an unbelievers standpoint and as such, is largely unBiblical. This is such an important topic, particularly for mothers of young children trying to navigate the waters of teaching our children about sexual purity. I understand that some of the scientific information in the nsvrc article may be helpful to parents, but can't we find a more Gospel-centered source for this type of information? Thank you for considering my concerns.

    • Rachael Starke

      I wonder if the reason for the link to the secular source is that there is nothing this specific that's written with a Christian worldview in mind. I was helped somewhat by the breakdown of what behaviors or levels of curiosity are customary at particular ages. The recommended solutions were definitely attempts at moral neutrality, which of course is not the answer. But most here would agree that another non answer is the typical 'No - don't do that", right? We need someone to write a book on Gospel-Informed Sexuality for Kids. :) (I'm sort of being facetious, but sort of not.)

      Long way of saying, I respect Lindsey's perspective as someone who deals with the horrible fallout of this issue every day. What she says in the post is tremendously helpful, and the link provides more data points to consider, even as we filter the recommendations a secular person inevitably makes about those points.

  • EMSoliDeoGloria

    Great post!

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  • Anonymous

    Re: #2 - Teach them the proper names of body parts

    I disagree. When children are very young they have no discernment of what is appropriate in public, so it's better not to label parts in much detail.

    It's very awkward to have 3-year olds walking around discussing their penises and vulvas with people at church and the guests in your home. Save that for an older age. After all, you call an ear an ear. You don't insist that children label everything: helix, concha, scapha, tragus, etc.

    For very young children, call it their "crotch."

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