Let’s Talk Sex – The Curiosity of Toddlers

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I am sure the title of this post was a bit disconcerting. After all, what on earth could you possibly teach your 2-5 year-old about sex? It may seem like a strange thing to discuss with young children, but it is an important topic to start covering from a young age.

Children soak up information like a sponge. As parents, you can help fill that sponge with a healthy view of sex. While your young child may not need to learn about sex, they should start learning about their identity as a boy or a girl. For instance, you can start by explaining how God created them male or female and it was good (Gen 1:27). Explain to your child that they were made in God’s image and He doesn’t make mistakes. They are indeed “fearfully and wonderfully made.” From this place it is healthy to properly identify body parts. The honest and matter-of-fact differentiation between body parts will help lay the framework for explaining how certain body parts are off limits to others, because they are special. This is important, because many children around this age become curious about the human body.

Since curiosity is natural and to be expected, it’s helpful to clarify their questions being sure to understand exactly what is being asked and the context of the question as we don’t want to provide to much information to soon.  Thus remember to respond to their questions with a question, “That’s a good question, what do you mean? Where did you hear that? Etc…

One way to help children differentiate body parts is to teach them during bath time. Have them name their various body parts by turning it into a game. The great thing with this is that they are already undressed. If they have a sibling of the opposite gender or if they have seen either parent undressed, they are probably already inquisitive about the differences. Kids are very curious during this age and learn best from life experiences. You can even teach them from nature or everyday situations, such as the neighbors cat have kittens or the woman at the coffee shop that is nursing her newborn baby. There are so many avenues for being honest and open with your child. Use this curiosity to your advantage by responding honestly. Honesty is important, because it helps establish trust with your child from a young age. 

Being honest with your child includes using proper anatomical terms versus using slang words for their private parts. It might be uncomfortable for you at first, but this terminology is foundational as it can prevent both confusion and future embarrassment when the correct terminology is used. Oftentimes, parents choose to use slang words to prevent their children from talking about their body parts when they shouldn’t, but this does more harm than good. Instead of making up funny words for each part, focus on teaching your children concepts such as privacy, modesty, and respect. Role-play with your children what these concepts might look like in public or private settings.

By demonstrating these concepts to your children, you are building a reference point for them about what is acceptable both for them and for others. If your children know that touching another person’s private parts is wrong, they will also begin to understand that being touched in those same areas is not acceptable and they will know to talk to you about it. You can give your children practical examples of what is okay touch and what is inappropriate. This might help shield them from molestation. Unfortunately, this is a necessary conversation to have with your young children. You can teach them by simply being aware of their curiosity, answering questions, explaining the difference between boys and girls, and talking about good versus bad touch. Inadvertently, these same things instill trust in your children and show them they can truly talk to you about anything. It will remove any embarrassment that they might feel and will keep the communication open. Abuse is significantly reduced when our children receive a simple, calm description of what kind of touching is inapposite and the assurance that you will be there for them should anyone touch them.

As you begin to talk to your children about good versus bad touch, it is important to have a plan for what you will say should your child masturbate. Many parents shame their children for this. In return, their child will learn to become secretive. This secrecy could lead to other sexual experiences in the future simply because their parents punished them for their natural curiosity versus keeping the communication open with their child. Instead of shaming your children, I encourage you to explain that their curiosity is natural and simply let them know that touching their private parts in public is not appropriate. Along with this, I would calmly redirect them to another activity. Oftentimes, children masturbate because there is a lack of comfort in the home. Punishing them only heightens this. Typically, children outgrow this, but it is important to decide in advance how you will handle this should it arise as it can be a problem for boys and girls usually between the ages of two to six and again between the ages of twelve and twenty.

With a basic understanding of their identity and differentiation between body parts at a young age, you are setting a healthy foundation for future talks on sexuality. A lot of material was covered, but these foundation years are important. If you want to raise children with purity, integrity, and a healthy view of sexuality, it is beneficial to raise them in an environment that values these very things and keeps the communication between parent and child open from the start.

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Have your toddlers shown a natural curiosity?  What resources have you found helpful?

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