Understanding Your Developing Child

To parents of infants and toddlers, their children’s sexual development may seem a long way off. But actually, sexual development begins in a child’s very first years.

To parents of infants and toddlers, their children’s sexual development may seem a long way off. But actually, sexual development begins in a child’s very first years.

To parents of infants and toddlers, their children’s sexual development may seem a long way off. But actually, sexual development begins in a child’s very first years. Infants, toddlers, preschoolers and even young school-aged kids develop an emotional and physical foundation for sexuality in many subtle ways as they grow.

By understanding how your kids grow and learn, parents can play an important role in fostering their emotional and physical health.

Preschool (Ages 3 to 5)

By preschool, most kids have developed a strong sense of being a boy or girl, and continue to explore their bodies even more purposefully. It’s not a good idea to scold them when they touch themselves—this will only prompt a sense of guilt and shame. Parents may, however, want to explain that, even though it feels good, touching should be done in private—preschoolers are old enough to understand that some things are not meant to be public.

They’re also old enough to understand that no one—not even family members or other people they trust—should ever touch them in a way that feels uncomfortable.

Endless questions. As they become curious about everything, it’s common for preschoolers to pose questions to their parents like “Where do babies come from?” or “Why do girls and boys have di erent parts?”

When you are asked questions like these, try to answer as honestly and matter-of-factly as possible. Answers like “the stork brought you” not only dismiss a child’s curiosity, but also make you look less credible when your child eventually finds out the truth (and he or she may then be less likely to come to you with questions in the future).

Find out exactly what your child wants to know and then answer the specifi c question—there’s no need to go into elaborate detail when it might not be necessary. For example, you might say that a man and woman can make a baby and that the baby grows inside the woman’s belly. If this satisfi es your child, you might not need to provide additional information about how the

baby is actually made until later.

Playing doctor. At this stage, kids tend to be curious not only about their own bodies, but about other children’s bodies, too. If you find your preschooler playing doctor with another child around the same age, it’s important not to overreact—to them it’s just an innocent game (of course, if an older child or adult is involved, your concern would be legitimate).

Preschool “boyfriends” and “girlfriends.” Some parents of preschoolers are alarmed when they hear their kids talk about a boyfriend or girlfriend. If your youngster says this, remember that kids don’t attach the same meanings to the words that adults do. Most experts agree that it’s best to react to this kind of news in a neutral way—don’t encourage the behavior, but don’t

express concern either.

Elementary School (Ages 6 to 10)

Kids this age are especially interested in pregnancy, birth and gender roles—boys usually play with boys, and girls with girls. This is also the

age where their peers and the media begin to have a bigger infl uence on sexual attitudes. If you aren’t a reliable resource, your child may turn to a peer or perhaps an older child for information about sex, sexual organs and reproduction—and chances are slim that the facts will be correct and the words learned will meet your approval!

If you’ve previously said that a man and woman make a baby, now your child might want to know how. As always, be honest—kids of this age will jump to their own conclusions when they’re missing information. It’s not uncommon for kids in elementary school to assume that babies are made when a man and woman lie next to each other, sleep in the same bed, hold hands, kiss or swim together.

As Kids Grow. As kids continue to understand and experience their bodies, and the physical changes of puberty emerge, your attitude and acceptance will continue to play an important role in their healthy development. As kids mature sexually, they’re often both excited and scared about growing up— especially when they notice hair growing in new places, get their periods or start having wet dreams. They spend a lot of time wondering if they’re “normal” and comparing themselves with their friends. Kids —especially early and late bloomers— need lots of reassurance as they head into this uncharted territory. Puberty can be a very confusing time, with

lots of physical and emotional changes, and kids need to know what to expect in the months and years ahead, even if they’re too shy to ask. By being open to your young child’s questions about bodies, babies, love and sex, you set the stage for continued conversations and openness when puberty begins. Welcoming the questions about your child’s changing body and sexual issues—and not treating them as dirty or embarrassing subjects—will help foster a healthy sense of self-acceptance in your child. It also makes it more likely your child will use you as a resource for information and guidance.

Here are three great tools for moms and maturing kids:


Old Concept New Introduction

Sanitary panties are common in Japan but strangely unfamiliar to most of us in the United States. Bon Chic sanitary panties are not only practical but very cute and comfortable. Check out the variety at bonchic.laniweb.com or

call 387-2527.




A Good Book. Period.

Period. A Girls Guide, by JoAnn Loulan and Bonnie Worthan is a great book to reference. The start of hormonal changes can be troubling, even traumatic, for young girls. Period explains, in a straightforward manner, the changes all girls go through and answers common questions.





Boys to Men

The Body Book for Boys, by Jonathan Mar and Grace Norwich, is a must-have for boys looking for straightforward advice about growing up and their changing bodies. Complete with tips, quizzes and Q&A’s, this is the essential volume about growing up.