How to talk about sexuality with your child

How to talk about sexuality with your child
Even if it’s not always easy to talk about sexuality, it’s important to bring up the subject with your toddler. The earlier you start, the easier and more natural it will become.

Even if it’s not always easy to talk about sexuality, it’s important to bring up the subject with your toddler. The earlier you start, the easier and more natural it will become.

From an early age, your child needs to better understand her body and what she’s feeling. She also wants to know where she comes from. This is why talking about sexuality should be incorporated into how you raise your child. “When you talk about it without shame or embarrassment, you give your child a healthy image of sexuality,” says Frédérique Saint-Pierre, psychologist at CHU Sainte-Justine. This also helps you nurture a relationship with your child based on trust.

In turn, during adolescence, your child will tend to turn to you when she has questions about sexuality, rather than to the Internet or her friends. Studies show that children who have been properly informed about sexuality have their first sexual experience later, and fewer of them engage in unprotected sex. Here are some ideas to help you establish a healthy dialogue with your child.

Teach her the correct terms

It’s recommended to use the correct terms from the outset: penis, vulva, vagina, anus, buttocks, and so forth, rather than terms like “weenie,” “wee-wee” or “bum-bum.” These words are not any more difficult for children to learn, and there’s nothing embarrassing about using them. ”I taught my son to name his genital parts during bath time or when dressing,” says Marianne, mom to 2-year-old Léandre. “I taught him the correct terms, like I did with the other parts of his body. For him, it’s completely natural.”

It’s not always sexual!
It’s important to remove our adult glasses when thinking about psychosexual development in children. If one of your child’s actions makes you feel uncomfortable, think about the intention behind her action. For example, a 3-year-old toddler who shamelessly reveals herself is not trying to provoke or seduce. For her it’s not a sexual thing at all. “Children are confirming their sexual identity,” says sex therapist Mélanie Guérard. “They want to show you that they are really a boy or a girl.” By the same token, your intention is not sexual in nature when you wash your child’s genital area, or when you carry your child by holding her between her legs. Your goal is simply to care for your child, and sexual pleasure has nothing to do with it.

Try to see the situation from a child’s point of view

For sex therapist Jocelyne Robert, children are not mini adults. They are, above all, curious and spontaneous. They are not trying to seduce anyone. So, if your toddler shows behaviours that to you seem sexual, don’t put adult intentions on her actions. Try to see the situation from her viewpoint.

Talk to her and answer her questions

It’s good to start talking about sexuality early on and to let your child ask questions. According to Jocelyne Robert, the simplest way is to include sex education in everyday life situations. “Changing her little brother’s diaper, sharing a bath, or having a pregnancy in the family are all opportunities to talk about it,” she says. The dialogue can be continued in this way as your child grows.

So what happens if one of your child’s questions makes you feel uncomfortable, or she asks it as you wait in line at the grocery store? “You can tell her it’s a good question, and that you’ll think about it and give her an answer later on,” suggests Mélanie Guérard, sex therapist with the Clinique multidisciplinaire pour le développement de l’enfant. But you need to stick to your word! Then your child will see that she can trust you.

Provide her with correct, age-appropriate information

A young child doesn’t need all the details. The key is to answer her questions simply. Try to avoid giving her more information than she asked for, since she may not understand it. “If she asks how babies come out of their mommies’ tummies, you can answer that it’s usually through the vagina,” suggests Mélanie Guérard. “It’s pointless to add more. If she wants to know more, she’ll ask another question.”

It is, however, important to give your child the correct information. Stay away from stories about storks bringing babies, or about the penis that falls off if you touch it too much. A good tip before answering your child’s questions is to ask her what she thinks. This will help you adapt your answer to what she already knows and what she is really asking.

Teach her to respect her body

You need to teach your toddler that she can refuse any physical contact that makes her feel uncomfortable. Not forcing your child to give kisses is a good starting point. This is what Marianne does with 2-year-old Léandre. “He has the right to say no to a hug, even if it’s his grandmother or another member of the family who asks for one,” she says.

Talking about sexuality can happen completely naturally during routine activities like getting dressed, bath time or story time.

Your toddler also needs to understand that genital parts are something intimate. “While playing with my eldest, I accidentally hit his penis and he asked me to kiss it better,” says Rachelle, mom to 2-year-old Nicolas and 5-month-old Leonard. “I explained to him that mommies didn’t kiss their children’s private parts, and that no one else could touch them either.”

When your child starts to show more modesty, it’s important to give her more privacy. According to Mélanie Guérard, this will also help her respect her own body and set her limits. “For example, parents must accept their child’s wish to close the bathroom door,” she says. The same goes for bath time. If you think your child is no longer comfortable taking her bath with you, or if you yourself feel uncomfortable, it’s a sign that it’s time to stop.

Naître et grandir

Source : Naître et grandir magazine, April 2017
Research and copywriting : Nathalie Vallerand
Scientific review : Geneviève Parent, sex therapist, psychotherapist and parenting consultant

Photo: GettyImages/Brauns