Children start to learn about their bodies as soon as they are born. Babies learn about themselves through touch and by watching and imitating others so cuddles, hugs and kisses from their parents and family are essential. It is important that they see affectionate behaviour between family members as well.
Babies begin exploring their bodies from an early age–busy fingers find toes, ears, hair, noses and genitalia. If you find watching your child discovering his penis or her vagina embarrassing, gently direct those curious fingers to another area of the body or a favourite toy. Try not to show any signs of disapproval or disgust. If they get the message that this activity is wrong, they may feel guilty and try to hide it. Nature doesn’t stop the impulse of discovery just because we say it is unacceptable.
At three to four years old, children become aware of the differences between boys and girls. They may like to peep under each other’s clothing, check out what pet’s body parts look like or play mummies and daddies. These behaviours are pure curiosity and have nothing to do with sexual behaviour. A negative reaction at this time can cause a dislike of their bodies, fear of their feelings, and feelings of guilt or shame. Again, if these behaviours embarrass you, distract positively into another game or activity.
Now come the questions: “Where do babies come from?” “Can men have babies?” “How do babies get in?” Try to respond to these initially by asking the child the same question back to see they think. The response can give you an indication of the information your child is seeking. Keep your answers simple. For example, “You were made in your Mummy’s tummy and grew in there until it was time to be born”.
A calm matter of fact approach is essential; this encourages the child to feel safe and confident talking to you. There are many story books available for young children that introduce topics of reproduction, sex, love, babies etc. in an accessible way. Some favourites are Mommy Laid an Egg by Babette Cole and Where Willie Went by Nicholas Allen. Check out your local library to see what they have available. The simple information can be a useful guide to keep our information simple and clear. Remember- before long your children will grow and their need for accurate, honest information will grow, too.