I noticed when my daughter was quite young that she knew all of her body parts with the exception of reproductive body parts. And more so, I realized that I didn’t really have a good way to teach her them. There aren’t many books for one year olds, and so it was up to me.
So why would I teach her this?
First, she needs to know what to call it. If it hurts, or someone hurts it, how will she know what to tell me? If I give it a name unlike its true one, when she tells someone else it hurts or someone hurt her, they won’t know what she is talking about. So, assuming she isn’t going to get hurt or be hurt, what’s left? I learned the importance of this clarity for her first hand when she went to the doctors with symptoms of a urinary tract infection. The doctor looked at me and asked if I was sure it didn’t hurt in her butt area? She named that some kids get confused. I turned to my kid and asked, “does it hurt in your vulva or your butt?” “Vulva,” she replied. “Ok, then,” said the doctor.
Secondly, I want her to have a healthy view of her own sexuality. Talking about sex should start early. Surprising right? I don’t mean we should tell them all the details right away, but we should start scaffolding the information. The correct name for body parts and an understanding of how they work is the first step. They will ask questions, but they are only looking for a direct answer. If we answer the question matter of fact, they are often satisfied and move onto another topic.
It’s key that we answer though. If I shut down questions now, or lie to her, how will she trust me? Parents often think that a little lie here or there is harmless, but children are incredibly smart. Their entire childhood is based on observation and questioning. So when you fail them by telling them a lie and they find out, you automatically become a bad source of information. So why risk this when it comes to sexual health? Lies run the risk of us losing them before we can share not only accurate information, but also our values on the topic.
Imagine the power of honesty with your child when you tell them about their body when no one else will. When one day, you teach them about sex – that it can be incredibly fun, pleasurable, and satisfying, and it can also be flat, boring or emotional. Taking away some of the mystery and instilling a positive view on what sex looks like can lessen the urge to experiment. And even if it doesn’t do that, they at least have the knowledge of the risk involved for sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy.
I hope that my children decide to have sex when they want to – not coerced, pressured, or because there is nothing else to do, but because they really like their partner and that they want to experience the positive things about sex with them.
I fully expect them to mess up, how can they not. We all mess up every once and awhile. But imagine the security as a parent to know that when they do, you’ll be their first call.