Sexual education is a lifelong process of acquiring information and forming attitudes, beliefs, and values about such important topics as identity, relationships, and intimacy. Parents often wonder when sexual education for children should be introduced, or who is responsible for educating children on sexuality.
Development and Sexual Education
- Infants and Toddlers – Children begin to learn about their sexuality at this age, and parents are their main teachers. It is important at this stage to name all the parts the body, as this teaches children that their entire body is natural and healthy. Additionally, talking with your child and responding to their needs at this age will lay ground work for trust and open discussion as they grow older.
- Preschool children – are very curious about bodies – their own and other people’s. They are trying on roles and behaviours and may be mimicking adults as they play doctor, marriage or catch and kiss. This combination of natural curiosity and role-playing sometimes leads to childhood sex play. It may lead to touching, and children discover that this type of touching feels good. In other words, this type of play is expected and harmless. At this age it is important however, to teach children that their bodies belong to them and that no one has the right to touch them without permission. Additionally, teaching children to say “no” if they feel uncomfortable and to talk to a trusted adult if they need help, will prepare them if they are ever faced with a situation that makes them feel unsafe.
- Sex Education for Young children – are able to understand more complex issues about health, disease, and sexuality. Parents often find that their children are interested in birth, families and death and will often have questions, fears or concerns. By creating a home where a child feels free to ask questions about their bodies, health and sexuality, children will learn that their home is a supportive environment and will be able to approach their parents in the future. At this stage, children can be provided with basic information and will understand best when information is based on concrete examples from their lives.
- Sex Education for Preteens – Children at this age are going through all the changes of puberty. They are often concerned about their bodies, their looks, and what is “normal”. There is a lot of social pressure at this age and due to this children need your guidance on making good decisions about relationships, communicating sexual limits, and protecting themselves from unsafe situations.
- Sex education for Teenagers – are often very curious about sex. At this stage, it is important that they have been told basic and accurate information, including what sexual intercourse is, homosexuality, the negative consequences of sex, and information about protection.
Who should talk to your child
School based sex education is important to the health and well being of children. However, parents have a profound influence on the development of sexual attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, especially in the years leading to early adolescence.
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Therefore, most school based sex education programs are designed purely as a supplement to the information children receive from parents and caregivers. Additionally, adolescents often feel that the sex education they receive in school is inadequate, and they want open discussions with their parents.
Tips for talking with your child about sexuality
- It’s a parents responsibility to introduce sex education the topic little by little, don’t wait for your child to start the conversation.
- Find out what your children already know, for example “where do you think babies come from?”. Correct any misinformation and give the true facts about sex education.
- Reward your children for asking questions about sex education rather than brushing of the subject. This will allow children to continue to feel comfortable to talk to you about any issue, specially about sex education.
- If you don’t know the answer to a questions about sex education, it’s a good opportunity for you and your child to look it up together.
- It’s OK to feel uncomfortable, and you can mention this to your child. For example, “I’m not used to talking about sex because Grandma didn’t talk to me. But I think it’s important and it will get easier as we go along”.
- Look for naturally arising teaching opportunities that provide a good venue to talk about aspects of sexuality. Such as a scene on a TV show or movie, or if your teenager is getting ready for a school dance. These moments will provide you with the opportunity to share your family values and offer bits of information without having to formally sit down for ‘talks’ about sex education
- Facts are not enough. Children need to be educated about reproduction and puberty, however, they also need to hear about your own family values about sex education
- It’s the job of both parents to teach their children about sexuality and sex education. Children need to hear the adult view point of both genders. Additionally, it teaches children that men and women can talk about sexuality together – an important skill in adulthood.
- It’s important to not just focus on the negative consequences of unprotected sexual activity. Teenagers also deserves to know that expressing sexual feelings in a responsible manner can be a vital and rewarding part of an adult relationship. Be sure to share your own family values about responsible healthy sexuality.
The Quirky Kid Clinic can help parents and families with communication strategies as well as dealing with common issues that may arise. For more information, or to schedule an appointment please contact us.
Information for this fact sheet was taken from an interview with Child Psychologist Kimberley O’Brien, the Raising Children Network website, and the following articles:
Hecht, M., & Eddington, E. N. (2003). The place and nature of sexuality education in society. In J. R. Levesque (Ed.), Sexuality education: What adolescents’ rights require (pp. 25-37). New York: Nova.
Fay, J., & Yanoff, J. M. (2000). What are teens telling us about sexual health? Results of the Second Annual Youth Conference of the Pennsylvania Coalition to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Journal of Sex Education and Therapy, 25, 169-177.