Childhood development of sexuality - Mothering Forums
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#1 of 9 Old 01-02-2010, 11:34 PM - Thread Starter
 
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At what age, and in what way did you choose to address sexuality with your children? Based on my own experience... I was sexually curious at a young age (4 years and up). This developed into sexual play with other children and then as I grew older (8 years and up) I found myself in situations that were not always consensual.

I am wondering how others have addressed these sorts of situations with young children. I have thought about saying "your body is a wonderful thing for you to explore by yourself and should not be shared with others until you are an adult". But I am concerned that this would make them feel ashamed of their sexuality or affect their adult relationships. At the same time I want my child to feel empowered to say no if they are uncomfortable.

Do you feel it is normal for kids to play doctor or act out sexual play with other children- should this behavior be discouraged?

Is it better for a mother or a father to address these issues with a particular gender over another?

Thanks.
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#2 of 9 Old 01-02-2010, 11:56 PM
 
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I don't know about your childhood experiences or how old you may be. I'm in my 40s and children were generally not given many "rights" when I was growing up, including the knowledge of having the right to say no to unwanted touching, etc.

My son's almost 3 and we talk about certain body parts being private, and that people can't touch without permission from him. That dovetails in nicely with teaching him respectful playing and sharing anyway (asking permission to play, have a toy, etc.), so it's worked out well.

I have no problem with his playing doctor with kids his age if/when that happens. I wouldn't want it with kids much younger or much older than himself.

I try to explain things matter of factly and in an age-appropriate way. So far that's been pretty easy. It will be interesting what the next few years entail.

Biology seems pretty easy to me to explain. Family values seem a bit harder. Personally I'd love for him to wait until he's out of high school, but I know that may not be realistic. Instead, I plan to teach him to value not only himself, but women as well, and that we as a family don't believe in casual sex. I also intend to explain to him that even if a girl says yes, especially as a teen, she may not really be ready. And that sex is something to be reserved for someone he's in love with and respects. Now, how to teach that effectively? I have no clue.
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#3 of 9 Old 01-03-2010, 12:04 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Additionally, I wanted to comment that there was a great deal of self-prescribed shame that followed my sexual experiences from 4 and up. I do regret these situations, but they have in some ways made me the person that I am. Should I attempt to help my child avoid these situations all together or do I let them experiment?
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#4 of 9 Old 01-03-2010, 12:11 AM
 
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Additionally, I wanted to comment that there was a great deal of self-prescribed shame that followed my sexual experiences from 4 and up. I do regret these situations, but they have in some ways made me the person that I am. Should I attempt to help my child avoid these situations all together or do I let them experiment?
Do you know "why" you felt shame? That's a big thing, feeling shame because of any type of sexual experience. Learning about sex is natural for all ages; there shouldn't be any shame involved. I'd work on defining and setting appropriate boundaries. Touching someone without permission? Not appropriate. Playing doctor? OK if there's consent. Masturbation? Fine if it's in private. And so on.
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#5 of 9 Old 01-03-2010, 01:10 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Do you know "why" you felt shame? That's a big thing, feeling shame because of any type of sexual experience. Learning about sex is natural for all ages; there shouldn't be any shame involved. I'd work on defining and setting appropriate boundaries. Touching someone without permission? Not appropriate. Playing doctor? OK if there's consent. Masturbation? Fine if it's in private. And so on.
You bring up a good point... why the shame?

I guess some of it was possibly how my parents prepared and reacted to my childhood sexuality. Meaning they had not prepared me with any information about respecting my body and when they found out about my encounters they reacted harshly. I don't think they knew about all of my encounters, but their primary reaction fueled my own self-shaming for subsequent interactions.

As for the comment about setting boundaries... this can be difficult. The lines get blurred and are difficult to distinguish as a four year old. Playing doctor can easily turn into a sexual encounter involving masturbation and inappropriate touching. Also, playing doctor with an older child can easily cross the line into being a sexual molestation. I don't think I can or should explain these distinctions to a four year old. Any thoughts?
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#6 of 9 Old 01-03-2010, 01:55 AM
 
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I'm really sorry about what you went through as a child. It makes the thought of being a parent, with all the power that wields, a bit terrifying, doesn't it?

A couple of thoughts:

The shame: Guilt and shame are two sides of the same coin: guilt is what we feel when we do something bad; but shame is what we feel when we think we are intrinsically bad. Most parenting today seems to focus on showing a child that the behavior is wrong, not the child him/herself. So hopefully this will help minimize actual feelings of shame in our kids.

Boundaries: That's the major reason I wouldn't allow for "playing doctor" with kids significantly older or younger than my own. It's also why I won't allow sleepovers at someone else's house unless I know that family very well. I know we can't watch our kids 100% of the time, especially as they get older, but we can continue reinforce the ideas of privacy, respect for one's self and for others, and the need to say no. Those lessons will get more complex as the child's experiences become more complex.
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#7 of 9 Old 01-03-2010, 06:01 AM
 
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mamabird: I know what you mean about sexual curiosity at 4, and about feeling shameful/bad about it because of parent reactions, as I had similar experiences/feelings. I remember very distinctly that at a little older age (maybe 7-8?) a situation where a friend and I were pretending that our dolls were "humping" and her mom walked up. She asked what we were doing, and my friend very matter of factly announced it, whereas I was MORTIFIED and kicked her for telling a parent that! The mom's response was great...she said something about how it was normal for us to be curious about that sort of thing and we weren't in trouble. I was SHOCKED that a parent could react that way...mine were the sort who freaked out about EVERYTHING. I can't say exactly what to tell your 4 year old, but I know that I am going to be trying my best to be a calm and receptive listener, and create an environment where my daughter feels like it's ok to tell me about things. Hopefully from that platform, we'll be able to talk about things on a case by case basis, and have ongoing communication, without fear and shame.

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#8 of 9 Old 01-03-2010, 02:11 PM
 
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I have struggled with how exactly to do this, mamabird. I was raised with NO positive discussion of sexuality as a young child, if any, to the point where my bother's sexual victimization and later sexual acting out was almost completely ignored, to everyone's detriment . I would love to give some input about how to address these things positively, but I have no idea; when I see DD touching her genitalia, I don't say anything and it's all I can do not to push her hand away, as was done to me... We have discussed that certain areas are private and that mommy and daddy can touch them to wash or help her wipe, but that other people are not allowed to touch her there. She gets that, but how to impart that it's ok and healthy for her to explore is completely foreign to me...something I have to work on so we don't continue the damaging silence that took place in my family.

Mama to DD 4/06 notes2.gif  new DS stork-boy.gif born 17/12/10 familybed2.gifnovaxnocirc.gif
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#9 of 9 Old 01-03-2010, 03:27 PM
 
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You guys are asking such great questions - my DD is only 1 yr old and I'm already thinking about this, because I know it's something I want to handle as well as I can.

Many of you have asked how to handle explaining that it's ok and healthy for a child to explore themselves. This is just my opinion, but between the "Healthy Child Sexual Development" workshops I've been to and a few other trainings, my approach is mostly that there is no need to SAY anything about what's ok and healthy. It is all about how I REACT if I see something that looks like exploration. I will try to not react at all, unless she's doing it in public or in front of people in which case the whole "That's something only you can do to yourself and you can only do it in private" conversation has to happen.

Also - and this is an important child abuse prevention tactic and parental bonding tactic in general - I plan to tell her from the age she can speak that she can always tell me ANYTHING. No matter what I will always love her, and I will always be glad she was honest. That's making no promises about how else I might react depending on what she might tell me, but I know I can promise that I'll always love her and always want to keep her safe and happy.

Saying this and then practicing it by, if she asks me at (what I consider) too young an age "What is a penis?" or points at herself and asks what her vagina is for, no matter how much I want to scream "Penises and Vaginas don't exist until you're 35 yrs old so don't ask!!!", I will do my best to stay totally calm and ask her where she heard the word, and then answer her questions. And ask her if she has any others. Staying calm and not freaking out is so important, so your child doesn't feel like they've done something wrong and is then afraid to tell you or ask you anything else.

As for playing with other children, you have control for the most part over what age kids your kids play with. If you regularly have your child around older or younger kids, you just need to keep a very watchful eye on them in general. Re: sexual play (like doctor or touching or anything else), I just think that it's important to do your best to know what's going on - kids shouldn't play in rooms with closed doors, they shouldn't be out of your sight for expended periods of time. If you do this well it should address concerns about older kids being sexual with younger.

But if you regularly leave your child with people where you aren't there and don't know the level of supervision, you need to be VERY clear with whoever the caretaker/responsible adult is about your level of supervision expectation, then just regularly check in with your child about what they're playing, what they think of the other kids, why they like/don't like particular kids, and LISTEN. You'll know if the play sounds fine and healthy and your child doesn't seem bothered by anything, or if your child seems uncomfortable or upset and then you can explore that further.

Creating a relationship with your child where they feel they can ask you/tell you anything and you will love them no matter what and not punish them for curiosity, combined with being close supervision and listening to your child, should help them to develop sexually healthy while also not getting into inappropriate situations with other children.

Oh, sorry, one more thing... if you find you do have a child who is sexually curious early, you do have a responsibility to be more watchful when your child is with other children. Your child may be innocent and curious and all that is fine with you, but the moment your child starts touching other children (especially younger OR older children) a HUGE range of negative consequences can occur, even though neither you nor your child meant any harm. You don't even want to go there. So if you know your child is very sexually curious and exploratory, you really need to watch and communicate with them that it's not ok to touch other kids or let other kids touch them in their privates. You can play Doctor or Nurse without getting naked or touching privates specifically, and I don't see any reason to let kids touch each other's privates on purpose (as opposed to young kids bathing togheter and poking each other, etc).
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