MANY parents are anxious; others dread the moment that they will have to talk about sex education with their little ones. However, clinical psychologist Dr Pearnel Bell says it is quite necessary, especially in light of the increase in the number of child sexual abuse cases globally, noting that it is one way of offering protection to our children.
“Children can learn at any age and they can understand, so really they are never too young to learn. In fact, for their safety you need to start early – three years old being a good age — so that you can offer them the best defence against paedophiles,” Dr Bell said.
She pointed out that key to talking to your child about sex is for parents to make sure that discussions not only meet the developmental age of the child, but it is done in the simplest language possible.
What exactly should you consider and what should conversations entail when talking to your child about the birds and the bees? Dr Bell shares a list of tips below:
Firstly, get those jittery nerves under control. If your child asks a question about sex then be happy that they feel comfortable coming to talk to you. So don't be concerned that your child wants to know about their private parts or where babies come from. If necessary, ask your child for a moment and think about how exactly you need to phrase your response and how you will frame future conversations.
Don't overload your child with information
Give your child information about sex in small doses. This means that instead of giving your child a whole mouthful, you should consider giving the child information based on his or her age and what is necessary for them to learn. “Do not tell a child more than they need to know. This can be quite traumatic. You also do not want to overload the child with information that he or she does not need,” Dr Bell advised.
Dr Bell said that you don't have to go into describing acts of sex, noting that you should not give more details than asked. For example, children may ask where babies come from. You may say that babies grow in mommy's tummy, not that they fall from the sky or other silly lies.
Maximise on teachable moments
Take advantage of teachable moments, when you are watching movies or TV, for example. If the topic of sex comes up, capitalise on it. If you are bathing the child you can also talk to your child about good and bad touch as well as draw on examples based on the experiences of their friends or family members who are their groups.
Teach them how to differentiate between good and bad touch
Talk to your child about good and bad touch. For example, when you bathe them is an example of good touch, but if someone attempts to fondle or play with their private parts they should understand that this should never be tolerated. In addition, you should use this lesson to tell your child that they are in charge of their bodies.
Make yourself available always
Make sure that you make yourself the go-to person to talk about anything related to sex. So allow the child to ask questions and answer accordingly. This ensures that the line of communication is always open.
Provide children with appropriate literature
Invest in age-appropriate literature; you want to start by engaging your child on the differences between boys and girls and their development. While you may read to them, also make sure that you provide your child with books to read that also explains various issues relating to sex, puberty, adolescence and even social concerns such as sexual abuse, etc.
Stop lies and half-truths
Avoid telling lies or making up stories because children will learn it from their peers or strangers. Ignorance on the topic of sex will make your child vulnerable and increases the likelihood of someone taking advantage of him or her.
Use the right terminologies
Always use the right names for the body parts so that they are able to understand boundaries associated with these parts. “Vagina” and “penis” are not dirty words; using the words should be encouraged and should be as normal as saying other body parts such as “arms” and “feet”.
Help them establish rules
You want to be able to act on the slightest hint of child abuse so of course you have to have a system. For example, teach your child about the underwear rule. All parts of the body which are covered by underwear, nobody must touch. Since your child knows they are in charge of their body, be clear that it doesn't matter who it is, even if it's a close family member, they should be aware of “bad” touches.
At the end of the day, always keep in mind that your goal should be to inform so that the child is equipped with the relevant information, while ensuring that you make them feel confident about their bodies and not ashamed or shy. Oh, and remember to keep the conversation with your child going.