The modern parent often has to answer not only such classic children's questions as "why is the sky blue?" and “where did I come from?” but also talk about more complex things, such as death, dangerous strangers, disturbing events, violence, and so on. The publishing house "Peter" has prepared a book, which is created for those mothers and fathers who are ready to discuss difficult topics with children, but do not yet really understand how. To help such parents, psychologist Natalia Presler wrote the book "How to Explain to a Child that Simple Scenarios are for Difficult Conversations with Children." With permission from the publisher, we are publishing an excerpt from a chapter entitled "How to Talk to Your Child About Sexuality."
Sexuality is not only the ability or desire to have sex. Sexuality is given from birth and even earlier, it is all sensory experience. It's just that sexuality has a different meaning at different stages of human development. Childhood, infantile sexuality and adult, mature sexuality are very different. Adults resent children's sexual behavior (for example, looking at each other's body parts) because adults put their meaning in it. But such childish behavior is usually just naivety and curiosity, not a desire to have sex or have an orgasm.
Touch refers to the basic needs of a person (along with quenching thirst, hunger, the need for protection and security, and love). Research shows that parents should hold their babies as often as possible. Babies understand that they are loved and soak up the experience when the parent holds them, strokes and hugs them.
If an adult is scared, unsure during this contact, babies feel discomfort, as if something is wrong with themselves.
When the parent reacts to the crying of the baby, takes the baby, the baby realizes that he is loved, that his needs are met, that the world can be trusted. Children who have not been touched begin to lag behind in development, poorly eat and assimilate food, move away from the world.
Adults want to squeeze babies, for them this is also an important sensory experience. How this manifests itself depends on the child's own experience of physical contact with the parent.
A psychologically healthy parent very clearly distinguishes physical contact that is beneficial to the child from harmful interaction.
Sexuality issues include: the first and subsequent experience of bodily contact with a parent (hugs, etc.); information on how breeding takes place; differences between men and women; self-perception of the child as a boy or girl; attitude to your body; features of body care and knowledge about it (about what the genitals are called, how we are arranged, etc.); family sexual values (attitudes towards nudity in the family, bodily contact, sex before marriage, family planning, etc.); passing on to children parental views on the relationship between a man and a woman, on the place in society of a man and a woman, gender stereotypes, etc.
When it comes to sex and sexuality, parents basically have two fears:
If I start talking about sexuality too early, won't that pique my child's interest in the topic?
What if it will be too late, and he / she will already find out the distorted version from friends / watch porn / become pregnant at the age of 15 / engage in unsafe sex, etc. Let's deal with these issues: we will find out why to speak, when to speak and, most importantly, what to say.
Talk to yourself first
Review the information below from the section “Talking about sexuality with children of different ages” and listen to your reactions. What caused your indignation, indignation, anger, embarrassment, harsh denial? If you reacted strongly enough to something, it makes sense to think: "What does this mean for me personally?" - often in this place is your pain point. This means the point of personal growth and development.
Do not educate "by contradiction". Sometimes, if in their own childhood the parents had a negative experience related to sex education (for example, their parents were too open and imposed sexual topics on children, tried to become friends, talking about their sexual experience, tried to find out the details of their intimate life, or vice versa - all sexual topics were a strict taboo in the house), then, becoming parents, these people say to themselves: "Just not the way I was brought up!" And they go to the other extreme. If you were too open with them, they taboo the topic.
If they were silent with them, they impose the topic too explicitly. Therefore, remember how it was with you, and try to avoid extremes and education "by contradiction."
Only you determine the amount of information that you will give your child on gender issues, and the values that you want to instill in him. It is important to discuss with each other what you think is important to convey to the child. It also directly depends on the culture in which you are raising your child. There are things that are conditioned by family values (say, attitudes towards sex before marriage, towards marriage itself, etc.), and there are moments that can prevent a child from forming a healthy sexuality (prohibitions on masturbation, for example).
It is helpful for the child if information about sex comes from both parents.
So he understands that such conversations are normal, and in the future he will be able to discuss topics of sex with his spouse, and not only with friends or girlfriends, as well as freely talk with his children, regardless of gender.
Don't be silent, don't let the topic drift
Gender issues cannot be avoided, because it is an important area of human life, and whether we like it or not, it concerns absolutely everyone. Do not you talk, others will. The child has a natural interest, and he will find those who will satisfy this curiosity, only instead of stories about love, acceptance, health, he can get pornography.
If you avoid conversations due to the early age of the child, put them off for the future, then this is a message to the child in response to his interest: “this is a closed topic, dangerous, forbidden”. As a result, he learns that it is better not to contact you on this issue (the level of trust between parent and child decreases, in difficult situations he will look for someone else to share his experiences). In addition, he begins to believe that he has some wrong, bad thoughts. This leads to a decrease in self-esteem, the topic of sexuality is overgrown with fears, guilt and shame, provoking neuroses and difficulties in sexual life in the future.
Therefore, answering questions (age-appropriate) rather than excuses will lay the foundation of trust and the basis for future more serious conversations.
It is very important for children to understand that you are ready to answer these questions.
By talking about sexuality, you can convey to the child the values of your family (for example, can there be sex before marriage, etc.).
Being open about sex will reduce the likelihood of child sexual abuse. He will know what is permissible and what is not, and will not hesitate to tell you about disturbing adult behavior if this happens.
Keep it simple
Read in advance the options for answers to questions that are difficult for you. Formulate for yourself how you can explain different concepts to your child.
Only say the simplest things in the simplest words. Formulate clearly, without allegories, hints, do not hesitate.Speak fluently and clearly.
If your child takes you by surprise with a question and you can't find the right words to answer right away, say, “This is a very interesting question. It's great that you brought this up. I will think about how to answer it to you clearly, and we will definitely discuss it later. " Remember to return to the child's question.
Follow baby take your time
Do not tell more than you are asked to. Follow interest. Less is better. If you notice that the child is fidgeting, distracted, it means that he has lost interest in the topic, found out what he wanted, then there is no point in continuing the story.
Expand information only if the child asks. Give it out a little and look at the reaction, whether the child is interested. Of course, babies do not need a detailed description of sexual intercourse. But they can learn that children grow in the uterus, and that a man and a woman, a sperm and a cell, are needed, which are connected to make a baby appear.
Don't give a lecture about sex
You do not need to hold special lectures, get used to talking about sexuality with your child in everyday life: simply and clearly, as well as honestly and in accordance with age.
Sometimes parents are worried, what if these conversations will push the child to sexual experiments, "lead to thoughts", stimulate "unhealthy interest." If you are an adequate parent, this will not happen. Research refutes these concerns. We'll talk more about this below.
Remember it's okay to be wrong
Even if you one or several times incorrectly reacted to the situation related to gender issues (for example, you forbade your son to touch the penis and scared him that it would dry up), it is never too late to correct the mistake. All parents make mistakes. You may tell your child that you reacted harshly at first because you had no experience talking about it openly with your parents. That you regret it and, in fact, are glad that he asks such questions. You have thought and would like to discuss it again.
Sometimes you may not know the answer, be unprepared for questions. Tell your child so. Be a living person for your children, not a walking encyclopedia that always has a ready-made correct answer. Let them know that you do not know the answer, that you need to think, look on the Internet, etc. But it is important to return to this.
Tell your child that his whole body is good, but there is intimate behavior.
The best parenting attitude for children about how to treat their body is described in a simple phrase: “Your whole body is good. But there is intimate behavior."
This message helps to form in the future an attitude towards sex and your body as a source of pleasure, as something worthy of attention, not shameful, but good and pleasant. This is the basis of self-love, healthy sexuality, acceptance of yourself as you are. At the same time, we show where the boundaries are, we report that there is an intimate behavior that is not intended for the eyes of others, whom it can confuse. But not because the child's body is bad or the desires are wrong, but because it is so accepted, such rules.
Try to keep your child safe from sexual abuse
Having a good sex education foundation reduces the risk that something bad will happen to your child.
The less prohibitions, shame or guilt are wrapped around the topic of sex, the more freely the child discusses all the incidents, thoughts and feelings in this regard.
It is important to convey to him the thought: “Your body belongs to you. No one should touch your genitals, except doctors or mom and dad, if health and hygiene requires it. " It is important to explain which touches are permissible and from whom (washing, wiping priests in the garden, etc.) and how exactly this happens normally.
"If any adult wants or touches you the wrong way, if you have any doubts about whether it is right or not, be sure to tell me, even if someone asks you to keep it a secret." The child needs to talk about it as simply and directly as possible, without hints.
"Nobody can touch you if you do not want it / if it is unpleasant for you."
This is an important message for setting boundaries and laying the foundations for adolescence so that in the future the child can say no in a situation of choice.It can also save the child from someone's abuse and bad intentions.
If parents usually answer “grow up, you will find out”, this completely discourages any desire to discuss something with them. And I want to discuss, and the child will turn to someone who will not deny. It is not known what information he will receive there and whether it will correspond to your values. Most likely no. It is important for the child to understand that the parents are ready to listen to any of his questions, that there can be no wrong or forbidden topics. To make it clear to him, you can simply say, "I'm glad / glad you asked."
If the child does not ask questions about conception, birth, etc.
This does not mean that he does not have them. You can carefully show him that you are open to such communication, drawing his attention to pregnant women or looking at your photos with him in the belly: "In this photo I am pregnant with you, you are in my belly in a special bag called the uterus."
Don't wait for specific questions to arise. Use ordinary everyday situations in which it is appropriate to talk about it: a phrase you accidentally heard on the radio, washing in the shower (you can tell how to wash your genitals, as they are called), touching yourself, etc. That is, information should not be given in isolation, but always either as an answer to a question, or as a commentary on a situation.
If children played naked / touched each other
Make sure the children are about the same age (up to three years old). If the child told you about how they touched each other in the garden, do not rush to swear and be indignant. If it was a game of children of the same age, without penetration, etc., then, most likely, it is just curiosity and ignorance of social norms. Do not react harshly, do not swear. Ask what the children were playing.
Your reaction might be something like, “This is intimate behavior. You need to play dressed. " “You are interested to know what boys and girls look like without clothes. But it can be done in another way”(show books for children, read about gender differences).
Remind the boundaries and rules: "Children should always play with their clothes on."
If there were other children involved, tell their parents without blaming anyone. If children with a greater age difference played, there were penetrations with fingers or something else, this indicates serious problems with the initiator of the games and requires the intervention of a psychologist and analysis of the situation.
Name the genitals correctly, do not use allegorical names
When we educate young children about the correct names of their body organs, we reduce the likelihood of situations where people outside your family will not understand the child. If the child is well aware of his anatomy, then in the case of inappropriate handling, incorrect touching, etc., he can clearly explain what exactly happened. The child will not have feelings of shame and guilt. If something is called allegorically, then something is wrong with it. Coming up with euphemisms for the genitals, you achieve the opposite effect - highlight them, draw attention to them. The correct naming of all organs allows the child to feel comfortable in his body.
Don't be afraid that talking about sexuality will make your child want to try sex too soon.
There is a widespread belief that a child will grow up earlier from such information. But children, when they are told about the mechanism of reproduction and correctly named the genitals, do not think about sex, arousal and orgasm. They simply satisfy their research interest in how the world and man work. Speaking with them, on the contrary, we remove tension and unnecessary emphasis: the same mechanism works as with the articulation of feelings. We voiced what was relevant, and the topic loses its sharpness, ceases to be "hot", becomes common.The child no longer needs to discuss this with someone, seek information, etc. If we bypass this topic, interest increases, tension increases, the topic grows overgrown with fears, speculation, difficult emotions (shame, guilt, etc.), and the child is fixed on it, gets stuck.
The desire to experiment with his body will arise in a child exactly when puberty occurs, as is inherent in his body, and no conversations (within normal limits, without seducing the child) can speed up this process.
Children do not have adult sexuality. In order to have thoughts about sex, they must have physical impulses to it, the body and brain must mature, without the production of certain hormones this is impossible. Talking about where children come from, what a penis and a vagina are, we are not pushing them to have sex. After all, we do not describe sexual intercourse in all details and using adult terminology, but we present information in a dosed manner, focusing on questions and in accordance with age. However, if you notice that a child is trying to imitate a sexual act, it is not because you told him something, but because he may have seen an adult film, parental contact, or sexually assaulted.
Do not be afraid that after talking about penises and vaginas, the child will begin to tell everyone these new words.
Often this question arises from parents who have their own difficulties with talking about sex. For such parents, even the medical names of the genitals are embarrassing, and sex is associated with something wrong, dirty, shameful. Such a parent should ask himself: how are the words "penis" or "vagina" worse than the words "finger", "hand", "stomach", "breast"? They are just names for body parts. It is important for us to name them correctly so that others understand what we mean.
If the parents are calm about these words, if they talk about it with the child without embarrassment, shame and silence, then the baby, having learned the names, will not shout them out at every corner, just as he does not tell everyone in a row that his hand is called a hand.
The child will simply perceive this information like any other.
Talking about sexuality helps to avoid embarrassing situations and inappropriate behavior in society. For example, a child who was not told that masturbation is an intimate behavior, with whom it was not discussed, but only scolded and forbidden, may end up in an unpleasant and even traumatic situation at school, at a party, in a public place.
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