Discussing sexuality with your children doesn’t have to be the stuff of nightmares. All it takes is you being open and honest with your kids from day one.
As a sexologist, I often work with parents to identify how they'd like to teach their kids about sexuality based on their family values. Many parents want to minimize the shame that's often associated with this topic.
And in order to raise kids to be sex-positive adults, it’s important to have some age-appropriate strategies in your back pocket. Here are the topics I recommend discussing at every age:
Infants Up To 2 Years Old
It’s no secret that babies and toddlers are big fans of body exploration, in all its various forms. This is perfectly normal and not a cause for concern. In fact, it's a great idea to use self-exploration as an opportunity to teach your little one about his or her body.
For example, diaper changes are an excellent time to begin naming body parts, since children often touch themselves during the process. Refer to the various body parts by their anatomical names, all while explaining how each works.
Using euphemisms signals your own discomfort. But putting real names to the body parts demonstrates that they aren’t taboo and that it's okay to talk about them. Teaching children anatomically correct terms promotes positive self-image, self-confidence, and parent-child communication.
The more frightening reason to teach children proper names for their genitals is the threat of sexual abuse. Teaching proper names for genitals is a key component of reducing a child’s vulnerability to sexual abuse.
Children From 3 to 5 Years Old
Self-exploration tends to increase during the years right after toddler-dom. This, too, is perfectly normal — so don’t be alarmed if you find your kiddo openly exploring his body for both pleasure and comfort.
It’s important to refrain from shaming your child, no matter how frequent or public their experimenting is.
Instead, seize the opportunity as another teaching moment when you can begin a healthy dialogue about when and where they discover themselves. Some common phrases to keep in your back pocket may include: “We don't play with our vulvas at the table” or “We don't touch our penises in the living room.”
It’s also common at this age for children to ask a variety of questions about the logistics of how babies are made, especially as they are increasingly influenced by the world around them.
These questions can understandably leave you at a loss for words. Finding age-appropriate explanations is possible, though. An honest explanation for “Where did I come from?” could be as simple as “Babies grow in a special place inside the mother, called the womb or uterus.”